The difference between Richard Wolff and me

Richard Wolff condemns the capitalist system, and so do I. But whereas he finds fault with the employer-employee relationship, in that the employer “exploits” the workers, and he recommends that all businesses be worker-owned and operated; I, on the other hand, do not find fault with this. It is a normal human desire to seek profits, or a better deal whenever possible. So, an entrepreneur takes advantage of the situation as best he can. And if he does not, his competitors will.

The root evil of capitalism — which is really a political system — is that politically it bars people from using land for free for subsistence. Not having such free access to subsistence land, drives people to becoming either employers or employees, depending on their capabilities and good fortune.

I am surprised that Wolff, who claims to be a Marxist economist, does not find this truth in the writings of Marx. It is there in Chapter 26: “The Secret of Primitive Accumulation” of Capital.

Why I am a political pessimist

The primary reason that I am a pessimist is that from a Martian point of view the trajectory of human history is towards an ecological self-destruction, and there is no remedy in sight.

There are proposed remedies, but the politicians — if they know them, either can’t or don’t want to implement them. As to the masses of people, they are — what can I say? — ignorant and uninterested.

Let me unpack what I just said. The world over — except for Switzerland — executive power is in the hands of single individuals. These individuals are either dictators (or monarchs), or presidents, or prime ministers. In the case of macro liberal democracies — in which thousands or millions vote — both the president and the parliaments are in the hands of the rich. Why? Because it takes advertisement to win elections where thousands and millions are voting. And advertisement takes money which is contributed mostly by the rich. And the rich will support only a candidate that will be beneficial to them. And, as in the United States, we can see that all the Presidents have served the rich. And the trajectory for the future is more of the same: Biden or Trump. Go ahead pick the lesser of your two evils!

With Prime Ministers, the situation is equally dismal. Remember that parliamentarians too have to be elected by thousands or millions of voters; so, they too will predominantly represent the interests of the rich. And the Party with the most members will pick the Prime Minister — obviously he or she will serve the interests of the rich. Take note of Great Britain: Thatcher, Blair, May, Johnson.

What could change these political trajectories? A change, for example, towards Swiss style democracy. But is it in the offing? I am afraid not.

I come now to the masses — the voters. The masses are pessimistic as to any influence they may have on politics; so, many don’t bother voting. Of those who vote, I think that they too are disillusioned, but feel that they must choose the lesser of the evils.

As to my proposal about Switzerland, how many voters even know that there is such a country? And even if they have heard of it, can they locate it on a map? As to knowing what kind of government Switzerland has . . . Ask first if they know what a government is!

What is needed is a change in the system of governments. But such changes in the system of governments occur only rarely, and under starvation or chaotic situations. The so-called recent “revolutions” have not been more than changes in leaderships. And, as far as ordinary people are concerned, changing leaders is a revolution. Consequently, even if conditions become dire, people will clamor for a leader savior. And that is why I am a political pessimist.

Reflection on recent demonstrations

I am neither a sociologist nor a historian, but when I reflect on the various types of demonstrations and rebellions in history they seem to have a limited range of causes.

As I watched on the Internet the various demonstrations in the United States — on the face of it — as protests against police brutality — specifically, in the killing of George Floyd — a few things came to mind.

The first is why did people go out to demonstrate? And the answer cannot be simple. It is a mixed bag. On the one side, the killing of George Floyd was a spark or catalyst that ignited the the frustration of people not only with police brutality, but also with the government, and the whole politico-economic system.

There are a host of very poor young people who took to demonstrations in righteous indignation, but also for the excitement, for the violence, and for the looting. The fact that these demonstrations were widespread in the United States, and in some places even in the world, is a symptom of economically and politically repressed populations.

This Covid-19 pandemic has created an unemployment situation equal to the Great Depression of 1929. In addition, the attempt to control the pandemic with a lockdown has frustrated people’s social feelings — that is why coming out and risking infection seemed to many a secondary concern.

And what is the response of the government?

In some better form of government, the response should be to alleviate the causes, but in the present form of government the response is to the symptoms: to quell the demonstrations.

And the response, as it is, is inconsistent because, to begin with, there are mayors, governors, and the president. And it is obvious that President Trump has a dictatorial streak when he warned the mayors and governors that if they don’t restore order, he will send in federal troops.

However, there is a wider underlying tension within the government. On the one hand, which was evident in Obama’s presidency, in having the greatest number of arrests of whistleblowers; this is the effort to safeguard a knowledge of government activity from the public, which, as such, is an expression of a resentment of democracy. This same mentality wants to suppress as much as possible demonstrations and popular unrest.

So there is a tendency to militarize the police with better protection and better weapons. But, on the other hand, there is the propaganda rhetoric of the United States as the land of freedom: the right of assembly and expression of grievances. The result is an ambiguous stance towards protests and demonstrations.

Now, historically protests and riots have had little impact on the major policies of the United States government: as with the Covid-19 disease, they have resulted in mostly emergency anodynes for the symptoms.

Thousands around the world protest George Floyd’s death in global display of solidarity, June 1, 2020.

Again: What is Capitalism?

I keep reading and viewing items about capitalism. It is almost universally assumed that we know what capitalism is, and with this assumption the discussion goes on to praising, condemning, or improving capitalism. What is praised is the efficiency of production and technological innovations, making more goods available at cheaper prices. What is condemned in the resulting poverty and unemployment. What is advised — as by social democrats — is more government involvement is regulating industry, promotion of worker-owned factories, and extending welfare programs.

But the question of what is capitalism is not addressed. And when it is addressed, it is misrepresented. The first misrepresentation is to view that capitalism is only a form of economy — specifically a market-economy. But a market-economy is just barter or trade, which has existed from time immemorial. Neither can capitalism be identified with factory production — again something that has almost always existed as a specialized form of production.

Contrary to being an economic system, it is a political system. How so? It is a political system which bars people from taking up free subsistence land. This is a necessary condition for the existence for an industrial market-economy. What I am saying is that capitalism is a political system which forces people into a market-economy.

So, what would be the antithesis of capitalism? It would be a political system which grants everyone the right to a chunk of free subsistence land. Does such a system exist anywhere in the world? Yes, all indigenous people who have not been forced into the market-economy are free of capitalism. The next closest to this are, for example, the peasant villages which are to be found in Eastern Europe and Asia, which are more or less self-sufficient.

Because under capitalism one is, as Chomsky says, “driven into the industrial system, and into wage-slavery”, and “driven” is another word for “forced,” and the “force” comes from the laws of government, capitalism is a political system.

* * *

There are only a few writers that have viewed the essence of capitalism as I view it. See my previous postings:

  • What is capitalism?
  • Is Capitalism a Political rather than an Economic system?
  • Criticism of Capitalism by G. A. Cohen, reflecting on Al Capp’s creature, the Shmoo
  • Capitalism = Proletarianism
  • Origins of the State, Land and Population
  • Primitive Accumulation of Capital (Dispossession of peasant land)

  • Noam Chomsky: “driven into the industrial system” — “driven into wage-slavery”

    In the following interview of Noam Chomsky by Chris Hedges, Chomsky starts with the historical reality of people in the United States “driven into the industrial system.” And he goes on to describe the workers’ resistance to this state of affairs, and he also describes the government’s successful efforts to foster compliance through the “manufacture of consent,” including through general education.

    Chomsky’s economic solution is to have a system of worker-owned enterprises. A solution, incidentally, which is also supported by Richard Wolff.

    My quick response it that a worker-owned enterprise is compatible with capitalism. It does not address itself to the problem of unemployment.

    The problem with this interview is that it does not address itself to the question: “How is the population driven into the industrial system?”

    The answer is tied to the necessary condition for capitalism, which is the political deprivation of people to a free access to subsistence land. And the other matter which has to be addressed is: How does such a political system work (and is possible) which drives people into wage-slavery ?

    What is required is a critique of the U.S. Constitution — a critique which neither Chomsky nor Hedges is prepared to give!

    Inverted Totalitarianism

    Below is an eight-part conversation between Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin (1922-2015) about, what Wolin called, “Inverted Totalitarianism.” Briefly: Classic Totalitarianism = Politics trumps economics; Inverted Totalitarianism = Economics trumps politics. This is a conversation about political philosophy and a history of, primarily, American “democratic” politics and its precarious social institutions.


    Wolin’s major books are:
  • Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought (Part I – 1960; Part II – 2004)
  • Tocqueville Between Two Worlds: The Making of a Political and Theoretical Life, 2001.
  • Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, 2008.

  • The problem is overpopulation; not the nature of the energy!

    Below is the new film “Planet of the Humans.” The director is Jeff Gibbs and the executive producer is Michael Moore. The thesis of the film is that using alternative sources of energy is not the solution to our ecological problem because, for one, it takes traditional sources of energy [such as oil, coal, gas, and biomass (eulogism for lumber)] to produce and back-up the machinery for harnessing solar or wind energy. The real problem is that we have too many people on the planet, using too many resources, eviscerating other life forms, and polluting the globe with almost everlasting garbage.

    Michael Moore film Planet of the Humans removed from YouTube

    See also The Silent Lie [about Overpopulation]

    The Political Views of Martin Gardner

    If you are like me, you have collected many books which you intend to read, but don’t get to them for years, and then there are those “archaic” books which take up your attention instead. The result is missing out on what is currently published or in fashion.

    Well, I finally read some of Martin Gardner’s “The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivner” (1983); “Postscript” (1999). He tells us that he believes in a God, in soul, in immortality, and in the efficacy of prayers. And he has no justification for any of these beliefs except for the fact that he believes them. Period. So much for the Enlightenment project!

    Well, I am not interested in his personal faith, and so, most of his book is of little interest to me, except for the three chapters in which he expounds his political views. These are chapter 7: The State: Why I am not an Anarchist; chapter 8: The State: Why I am not a Smithian; chapter 9: Liberty: Why I am not a Marxist.

    These three chapters could have been combined with the title: Why I am a Social Democrat.

    He correctly points out that political labels are ambiguous and vague; so we must understand them as used by Gardner. Extreme socialism (which he identifies with Marxism), for him, is a position in which the State owns and operated the means of production; every industry in nationalized, as it was in the Soviet Union. By “Smithian” he mean laissez faire capitalism with a minimal State, as expounded, for example, by Robert Nozick in “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” and by Milton Friedman in “Freedom and Capitalism.” By “anarchism” he means a Stateless society (which he extends to mean “governmentless”).

    He thinks a Stateless society is now unfeasible in view of industrialization. But he does not want industry to be totally in private hands. He wants some industries to be nationalized, private industries to be regulated by government, and he wants a welfare State. And he wants a constitutional democracy. This conglomerate of ideas he calls “social democracy.”

    He points out that most States are a mixture of free enterprise and government control. The problem is to find the right balance between the two.

    In response. From my perspective the problem is “constitutional democracy” — which Gardner talks about only in a peripheral manner. He writes: “Democracy clearly functions best to the degree that voters are intelligent and well informed, which means, of course, that the efficiency of democracy is strongly tied to education.” … “education may not keep pace with extensions of the franchise, that ignorant voting will substitute a rule by boobs for a rule by the wise.” p. 120.

    And we do have rule by boobs.

    But the problem is not simply that we have an uneducated electorate. The problem is many-fold. Given mass democracy (as contrasted with micro democracy), a candidate for office must rely on advertisement (which takes money), and, as Gardner pointed out, in 1967, in Picoaza, Ecuador, a foot powder, called Polvapies, was elected mayor. Gardner confesses to not knowing how to solve this problem except through better education.

    Also given mass democracy and the need for candidates to advertise, the probability is that only the rich and the friends of the rich will be elected. And once elected, they will work for the rich — as is definitely the case in the United States.

    We also have right now in the U.S. a President, who happens to be a boob. In Switzerland they don’t have this problem. They have a Federal Council of seven individuals. So, even if one of them is a boob, there are six others to keep him in his place.

    Gardner, I fear, never understood what was capitalism. It is a free-enterprise system which is aided by a government which forbids people from free access to subsistence land. And given the nature of mass democracy in which the rich rule, there never will be passed a law which gives people a free access to subsistence land.

    This can only occur with anarchism, which is based on micro democracy in which the unit of government is a small community of some 100 families federated with other such communities into a confederation. Gardner was unaware of this form of anarchism in Ukraine under Nestor Makhno during the Russian Civil War 1918-1921; nor of the anarchism which flourished in Spain during their Civil War and Revolution 1936-1939, with worker-controlled enterprises both in industry and agriculture.

    Gardner rejected anarchism because he did not know what it was.