Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Re-educated

I don't see any way to convince people that capitalism is not hugely triumphant, because they have mistaken progress that is largely an outcome of technology (itself largely fuelled by us jointly because our governments have funded it) for an outcome of the economy.

But capitalism does not focus on betterment, rather on the accumulation of claims on labour. But from the point of view of the labourer, wouldn't it be better to live in a world where your needs were met without requiring you to do much than one where you have to strive for those needs and, because we lack imagination, for wants that are created by the capitalists because without them they could not create claims on your labour?

What remains puzzling is why anyone would want to claim labour that is largely worthless, but I don't think we are capable of conceptualising its worth coherently, because we are so used to thinking in terms of "money", and not of what money actually is.

Our needs are, as they have been throughout the history of settled peoples, distorted by the distribution of land. Our first need is for food, but a close second is to have somewhere to live. That some can profit by that need seems to me the most elementary wrong in how we organise ourselves. Whereas libertarians see property as central to their utopia, I see it as the largest obstacle. We simply have not moved on from the Middle Ages, where we were forced to labour for a place to live (and our means of subsistence in feudal times) because an elite that dominated the exercise of physical force held the land. This is still true and libertarianism results in not much more than a defence of feudalism, since they believe that governments should only enforce the right to deprive others of land.

Were the state to place land in the hands of the commonwealth, we would need to do little to supply our needs, and could easily satisfy not only our own needs but those of every person on this planet. For what is an economy but a way to direct resources, of which labour is one? Resources are horribly badly allocated in capitalism. What do I mean by that? Well, my labour is a resource, which my employers pay about $30 an hour for. I waste my life doing something of very little importance to anyone, except capitalists who want to advertise their services to others.

Were I a film star, my labour would be "worth" many thousands of dollars an hour. I could command labour from people like me disproportionately to my own labour. I could also command enormous amounts of other scarce resources. This doesn't seem like a good idea. It doesn't create anything for the commonwealth, bar films. And do we really believe that actor X is so talented that he could not be replaced by a million other hopefuls, or at least that we would really suffer anything if he was? Culture is a huge industry, supporting itself by a coterie of hangers on whose own livelihood revolves around convincing us that it is valuable and that its producers are of such enormous value that they are not fungible. I think they probably are and more importantly, I think that culture would still be produced, and would likely have greater quality, were it not highly rewarded (or at least no more highly rewarded than any other kind of labour).

I start to see the value of re-education camps. We tend to see the Pol Pots of this world as madmen, but the vision behind their actions is clear enough, and is founded in an analysis that I mostly share. Most work is worthless, providing nothing to the commonwealth, even if we pretend that it does, or involved in creating new ways to waste resources. When you reflect that you cannot live without your iPhone, you might also consider that your grandfather did, and was none the worse for it. Not all "progress" does anything good. If we were to distribute resources more equitably, I could see the value in saying to worthless parasites like lawyers, art critics or management consultants, you have six months to learn how to do something useful.

Because if we were all employed in useful things, we would barely need to work at all. Neither food production nor resource extraction are particularly labour intensive any more, and distribution is limited only by its cost. In a world where cost is meaningless, we could distribute whatever we chose using rationally apportioned labour. And really, wouldn't you be more fulfilled driving a truck full of food through Africa, or building the roads that truck drives on, or helping to provide clean water so that the people you were feeding would not die of diarrhoea or cholera?

Maybe you wouldn't. Maybe you like working like a navvy to make other men rich. Maybe you feel that you need to work hard to "deserve" having more than other poor souls. Maybe you have mistaken ideology for truth: the invisible hand of the market did not make us rich; it ensured we remained slaves.