The Triviality of Capital Ownership

William S. Lear rael at
Sat Dec 12 13:08:39 PST 1998

On Sat, December 12, 1998 at 12:56:07 (-0500) Max Sawicky writes:
>Red-green discussion here seems possessed by the
>delusion that popular or democratic ownership of
>the means of production will engender a revolution
>in ecological consciousness and policy. ...

If your point is that democracy is not perfect, you are correct, and that point was made long ago by Aristotle who considered democracy the best of what might be called sub-optimal choices.

> .... This is
>not nearly as obvious as it seems. Constituencies
>who benefit from "dirty" industries and consumption
>habits -- workers and consumers -- are likely
>to oppose regulation just as they do now. ...

How do you know this? If democracy were the basis on which our society operated, it might be "likely" that they would welcome regulation. Let me give you an example: I own an internet company, and I do not want my employees working over 40 hours per week because I would prefer they have lives outside of work (I'd actually prefer less work per week, but I'm not the most "influential" owner...). This was something that was actually suggested by one of the other owners. We adopted it as a sort of working principle. I said that we should put rules in place which would prevent our abusing the principle. I suggested strict payment of time-and-a-half overtime for any time over 40 hours per week. That suggestion was not used, and our employees work very much over 40 hours per week now. Were we to have adopted my suggestion, the likely outcome, aside from the benefit to the employees, would be to decrease the amount of money that goes into my pocket. But, I would gladly trade that for the satisfaction of being able to look them in the eye and believe that I had been fair (at least, as fair as I could be under the rules of capitalist ownership). In short, you seem to assume that all or most humans are interested in nothing more than material gain for themselves; isolated, individualistic consumption, with no possibility for solidarity based on other values is the bedrock of (neo)classical economics and a hindrance to an efficient and ecologically sustainable economy, not to mention human social progress in general.

> .... Ecological
>costs that are attenuated by either time or distribution
> ... could easily have less political
>sway than other interests that motivate smaller groups
>to greater intensity of political effort. This is a
>logical outcome in a democratic setting.

This is absurd. You travel from the mush of the first sentence to the firm conclusion in the last one. If I've learned anything from reading the idiot (and I mean that in the way Hobsbawm says Marx did) Krugman, it is the limited utility of logic when based on distorted assumptions. Yes, given your constrained notion of democracy, it is logical, but that shows absolutely nothing; the more important question is, what is the *likely* outcome under democracy, or better, what is the best we can hope for under democracy.

>Another canard is that control of corporations frees up
>a cornucopia of resources. ...

Nonsense. The immense costs of controlling labor would be freed up, among other things. John Stuart Mill lamented "how great a proportion of all the efforts and talents in the world are employed in merely neutralizing one another." Michael Perelman has a new book coming out which details the immense waste of the market, but I'll let him finish it and get it on the shelves before I spill all the beans therein. I should also point out that Robin Hahnel has done some great work showing that markets tend to be inefficient simply because they grossly over-provide private consumption goods, due to endogenous preference feedback.

The rest of your post is a heap of ill-founded speculation, so I'll leave it to moulder as it should. Suffice it to say that it's pretty sad that the only alternative to capitalism you bother with is "statist" control of the economy.


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