The Triviality of Capital Ownership

Max Sawicky sawicky at
Sun Dec 13 07:51:15 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.

No, my point is that when democracy IS perfect, or simply when it is working, we will get anti-ecological decisions. Reminds me of the Woody Allen line, on going to a brotherhood youth camp, "I was beaten up by boys of all races, colors, and creeds."

> >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? . . .
> ownership). In short, you seem to assume that all or most humans are
> interested in nothing more than material gain for themselves;

For my premise to hold, your extreme version is not necessary -- only that most are usually interested in material self-interest. Any generalization is going to be reductionist to some extent. The question is whether it is too much so.

> isolated, individualistic consumption, with no possibility for
> solidarity based on other values is the bedrock of (neo)classical
> economics . . .

I'm pleased to entertain the very same possibility. I think this is called idealism, but what the hey.

If it's not too much of a caricature, I would suggest that a basic flaw in Marx is for optimism to take wing when the workers' paradise arrives and gloss over the possibility that workers and consumers, after the capitalists have all been shot (excuse me, 'reeducated') will not discern narrower interests than the political working class as a whole.

> . . .
> 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.

At the risk of summoning up legions of metaphysicians, I'd say the logical is the likely, and the "best we can hope for" is less likely.

> >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

Collective discipline of labor would still be required. Once again, you presume some kind of fit of solidarism will infect the population.

> 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.

There is some waste inherent in markets, as well as some benefits, and conversely for non-market provision. You are counterposing an ideal state to really existing economies. I'll look forward to Perelman's book. May have to take out a second mortgage to pay for it.

As for the renegade Hahnel, the inefficiency you note does not speak to my point, that in the structure of a business firm -- producing any output you care to assume -- there is less slack inherent in private ownership of capital than is apparent. The most obvious confirmation of this is the widespread left notion that one can somehow turn capital into a higher standard of living without liquidating the real stock of plant and equipment.

> ...
> 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.

I wasn't really speaking of statism so much as ownership of capital and socialization of markets. By implication, it is precisely other alternatives that become salient in that light.

It is more interesting when you try to refute something, rather than simply assert that it is wrong. If you avoided the latter, you would waste fewer words.



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