Monday, March 3, 2014

Thoughts on Capitalism

Since the age old debate about capitalism and socialism is rearing its head again, I thought I would take some time and document my thoughts on the matter.

First, I will acknowledge a fundamental injustice of capitalism, born out of an Anarcho-Socialist line of reasoning.  The fundamental maxims of this understanding are as follows:

- The Non-Aggression Principle:  No person has the right to initiate force, threaten force or commit acts of fraud against another person.

- Every person has the right to life; no person may be denied the things that are needed to sustain life.

If we accept that man is born into this world with fundamental needs, necessary for survival, such as food, water, clothing and shelter, and another man may lay claim to ownership of the things that are neccessary for survival, then a man in need could be subjected to a relationship of unbalanced power whereby he is subjugated to the man with property.  It is for this reason that Anarchists of the 'left' pursuasion feel that the crux of Capitalism, private property, is theft.  No matter what, a person must perform services for another before his needs are met.  These fundamental elements of survival are held hostage in this scenario.

I accept the Non-Aggression Principle.  However, there are other considerations of injustice to be taken into account.  Nature does not provide in adequate abundance the neccessities of life.  Today, these are met by the development of capital and resources to provide these elements.  For example, purified or potable water is rarely produced in nature.  Someone must harvest the water, transport it, provide  it with the chemicals or systems for purification, and then deliver it to it's end user.  To claim rights to the product of another person without a just exchange of value is to enslave that person.  It is another kind of subordination of one man to another, though in the minds of many, it's better to afflict those who have rather than those who do not.

It begs the question in an Anarcho-Socialist scheme, who will create the systems for the delivery of water without an expectation of returned value?  In a Communist State, this matter is easily dealt with through the use of force to allocate manpower and resources to the needs of the many.  A person made a farmer to supply food to the masses may want to be a ballet dancer, but in the eyes of the state, one has greater value than the other.  In a truly free society of a communitarian arrangement, how is this problem overcome?  In a Capitalist society, the farmer may be equally denied the opportunity to be a dancer, but at the very least, there is compensation for his loss and his efforts.  Is it wrong to assume that a person would not be drawn to an activity that by its very nature subjugates him to the will or desire of another person?  It might be a slippery slope argument, but logically it seems that the lynchpin of this scheme is the goodwill of individuals who elect to enslave themselves to the community for the betterment of the community.

Deciding between these two opposing positions is largely a value decision.  More often, I think , the apologies are to the left, in an appeal to humanity and empathy for those less fortunate.  Let me then be an apologist for Capitalism, by comparison of these injustices.  The labor theory of value was set out to highlight the exploitation of labor in a capitalist scenario.  The thought is that if a laborer supplies x value, and the entity that owns the means of production receives X+n, then the laborer actually provided an abundance of labor for the given value, or thus was under-compensated, and thus exploited.  In the perfect communist scenario, each laborer would provide exactly the amount that is needed, and nothing further.  This would eliminate the exploitation of labor.

It is my opinion that this understanding of labor and value is shortsighted.  When we pay for a good or service, we are not merely paying for the sum of the goods assembled, and the labor to assemble them.  We are also paying for advertising, shipping and market space, as well as the ability to buy more of these items in the future, perhaps better items.  A communist sees profit as exploitative.  A capitalist sees profit as a motive and an instrument to improve capital for the future.  This is the paradox of capitalism as an exploitative system.  In the aforementioned description of the injustice of capitalism, the injustice exists only so much as we have a right to exist.  In the estimation of a communist, a right to exist is well short of a right to thrive.  Beyond the provision of value needed to procure those things that we need for our survival is not exploitation, surely these activities become voluntary.

The failure of statist communism can be attributed to a desire to not make the improvements to capital that make labor more efficient and valuable.  Why would any communist seek to improve the means of production, if they represent an indignity to man?  In the United States, a hybridized system of social programs and free markets, great wealth has amassed.  The interesting thing is that we have well transcended mere needs in this country.  The percentage of time dedicated to the absolute minimum amount of labor necessary to meet our basic needs is small, and shrinking fast.  There may be fundamental injustices at work in our society, but this system is endeavoring to constantly reduce these injustices as they approach zero.  This is especially important as we enter a time when the New York Times sees virtue in subsidized health plans as a means to not work.