Comment 28599

By LL (registered) - website | Posted February 11, 2009 at 16:18:49

You seem to be looking at the question with one eye open. Sure, the founders of Wal-Mart and Google were able to leverage accumulated "systems" of knowledge. But this is secondary to their access to capital in the more traditional sense. You haven't offered a satisfactory counter-argument to the notion that capital embodies the surplus value of generations of exploited workers.

And I don't quite understand how you find it exotic or controversial to consider teaching, writing, designing, number-crunching etc. to be forms of work. Or to consider knowledge systems to be a form of "social capital". From my understanding, this is all quite conventional, in business as well as sociology and labour studies departments.

Now, you make a great point when you say:

"...value is also a function of demand."

This is the "subjectivist" position of neo-classical economists who by-and-large support a marginal utility concept of economic value, which squarely contradicts your thesis about knowledge creating objective value lying outside the realm of exchange.

Let me stress, I'm not a marxist. In a broad sense, I think economic value has both a subjective and objective dimension. But I think economists are very weak on what human "subjectivity" is and how it's formed - specifically, how personality is shaped ("warped", I would say) by socialization within hierarchical institutions of the state and capital. I think neo-classical economists cherry-pick social psychology data and know next to nothing about anthropology. In short, I think their concept of human nature is severely narrow and ahistorical.

It's a similarly narrow view of humanity that can't concieve of a decentralized society. Behind the call for a centralized leviathan lies the assumption that people just can't keep their s#!t together within institutions of free and voluntary association.

I can sort of see where this is coming from. There is a lot of chaos and disorder out there. At this moment, people are not ready for self-management. But the problem with statism as a solution is that no matter how "high" of an authority you want to create, there will humans running it who will be just as flawed as the humans on the local level. I would argue even more so, since power (like capital) tends to attract "clever" types while distance and anonymity makes accountability more difficult.

Someone with an interest in cities should be sensitive to this. Hamilton produces much wealth and it's citizens contribute greatly to the federal coffers. But when we need something - say light rail, which pretty much everyone in the city agrees upon - we have to beg for transfer payments. How much is lost to waste and graft as it filters through the federal bureaucracy?

Now there is a national - even global - division of labour, which creates regional inequalities and boom-and-bust cycles. But I would question the success of the Canadian state at solving this problem. Nova Scotia was the richest region in Canada until confederation. Jane Jacobs once compared Newfoundland to Iceland and noted that they were virtually identical in every respect except that Iceland was both independent and rich. (Maybe that's a dated example, considering the problems Iceland is currently experiencing.)

If anything, regional inequality is an argument against political centralization, since it tends to impose a metropolis-periphery dynamic. But one must understand the anarchist position in its entirety, which includes economic and technological decentralization. It proposes libertarian soc'ialism as an alternative to capitalism, direct democracy as an alternative to the state, and the confederal principle to organize disparate regions from the ground up.

"If some legal means is established to redistribute the value of that labour to its rightful owners, who should get the money?"

I'm not talking about redistribution. I'm talking about expropriation of the means of production to solve the problem at its root. Some anarchists - mutualists - talk about gradual, legal ways to bring worker control through co-ops, alternative banking, and appropriate technology. They even talk about a "free market", which is very from what A Smith and his ilk talk about. I wish them luck and lend a hand if it gets going locally.

But to me, the warped, people-exploting, earth-destroying nature of today's capitalism necessitates a SOCIAL REVOLUTION, which would create a new "legal" framework. Personally, I'm not opposed to a new constitution, though many anarchists would disagree. After that, direct and participatory democratic processes would determine how wealth is distributed.

Now it's not going to happen tomorrow. It would require decades of movement building and praxis, where people learn how to self-manage their collective affairs, and where the values of solidarity and mutual aid replace the crass values of today. But if we don't tackle these problems RADICALLY (at their roots), we will never come close to solving them.

Even the reforms you talk about will never happen without revolt. The welfare state didn't emerge through "trial and error", as if politicians were studiously experimenting for the benefit of the people. Politicians of the "Big Two" parties were always representing their true constituency - the tycoons. It was the Knights of Labour revolt of the 1880's, the Winnipeg General Strike, the On-to-Ottawa Trek and other labour unrest of the '30s, the AFL-CIO drives of the '40s and '50s - not to mention more turbulent events in other countries - that forced their hand into reforming the system.


As far as I'm concerned, we don't live in a democracy. Political power is concentrated in a few hands. The ritual of voting does very little to change that. Democracy is direct and participatory.


I won't deny that we have some freedom in this country compared to totalitarian regimes - freedoms that were hard won through struggle. But we're still a long, long way away from a free society. Most people experience coercion and domination on a daily basis - most notably in the capitalist workplace, an authority people "choose" to submit to as an alternative to starvation and homelessness. "Free speech" is fine - until you say something outside the orthodoxy, then you're likely to be blacklisted in your industry or profession. "Freedom of association" is great - until you use it to assemble in protest, then the cops have all kinds of tricks up their sleeves to subvert the constitution.

Permalink | Context

Events Calendar

There are no upcoming events right now.
Why not post one?

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools