Re: MD The Quality of Capitalism?

From: Mark Steven Heyman (
Date: Thu Dec 09 2004 - 03:13:58 GMT

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    Hi Platt,

    I doubt if you consider my comments "thoughtful," but I'll bite
    anyway. It's been a slow day.

    msh says:
    Well, let's just say that I value your political opinions less than I
    value your thoughts on art and philosophy. But in this thread I am
    more interested in dissenting opinions than in those who might agree
    with NC, although I will value both. So I welcome your comments, as
    long as they make a clear point.

    > >1. Capitalism gives people incentive to produce,
    > >innovate, work, both monetarily and in class status.
    > >Other systems do not and cannot produce good incentive.
    > >(Is there any viable alternative source of incentives?)

    > Is "capitalism" supposed to be something like the
    > system in the US?  Or Japan?  Or...? If not, we are
    > proceeding in outer space.  If so, then it is unfair to
    > say that the claims are unargued: they appear to be
    > instantly refuted even by the most superficial
    > examination.  Has great science, art, music, etc., been
    > produced by people working for money? (Followed by
    a long diatribe about creative people working for reasons
    other than money)

    As usual Chomsky begins with a false premise, namely, that
    capitalism's only concern is making money. It is one of the driving
    forces to be sure, but not the only one. The major force is freedom
    to exchange one's goods and services in an open market without
    interference by government thugs wielding guns.

    msh says:
    It's not his premise. He's responding to precise arguments. But I
    think you raise a good point in defense of the free market. NC was
    not asked to respond to this point, but I think he should be. If you
    don't mind, I'll pass your words along to him. and let's see what he
    says. Do you think I should phrase it the way you have, with the
    comment about government thugs wielding guns? Wouldn't the phrase
    "without government interference" be sufficient and less
    antagonistic. But I'll phrase it any way you like; just lemme know.
    He usually responds in less than a week.

    > >2. The classic - People vote with their dollars, what
    > >they like they buy and thus those things are supported.

    > Why do businesses spend hundreds of billions a year on
    > advertising?  Is it to develop the free markets of
    > doctrine in which informed consumers make rational
    > choices?  Or is it to "create wants," to pursue what
    > Adam Smith called the basic objective of "merchants and
    > manufacturers": to "oppress" and "deceive" the public? 
    > All of this seems too obvious even to waste time
    > discussing.

    Two typical Chomsky tactics--slyly misquote and ignore context. Adam
    Smith didn't say the "basic objective of . . ." His actual words were
    "generally have an interest in . . ." Further, the context was that
    it was far less dangerous to the free market to have businessmen
    pursue their interests than to allow government to restrain

    msh says:
    You fail to respond to the main point. Why do businesses spend
    hundreds of billions a year on advertising, if all they want to do is
    offer an objective arena in which fully informed consumers make
    rational choices?

    As for the rest of your comment, you yourself are playing a little
    fast and loose with Adam Smith's ideas. Smith's overall view was
    that, given equal starting positions and an equal playing field, the
    "invisible hand" will fairly guide a free market economy without
    government interference. But he was well aware that, in the real
    world of the 18th century English economy, as well as in our current
    world, there is nothing approximating these ideal starting
    conditions. And that under such conditions, government influence is
    not only warranted but essential. Chomsky touched on these points in
    his response, but you've excised them.

    I guess we can argue more about this, if you like. I should warn you
    that I've just finished reading a book on economic theory from Smith
    to Keynes, so I'm ready to go!

    > >3. Great intellectuals like Milton Friedman and Adam
    > >Smith advocate capitalism, how could I challenge these
    > >great minds?

    > Let's put aside Friedman, out of politeness, and keep
    > to Smith, a very important figure.

    I don't know what to call this rude dismissal of a Noble Prize
    winner. Chomsky chutzpah perhaps? Whatever, it's a slippery, mean-
    spirited dodge, unworthy of high school freshman much less a college

    msh says:
    O, c'mon. I agree about the dismissal. But he's doing nothing more
    than we all do from time to time in our email responses. This same
    dismissive tone is in your own response, above. My guess is, he
    wasn't prepared to discuss Friedman off the top of his head, but
    knows very well that Friedman's general economic theory is: What's
    good for business is good for the economy. Whether or not someone
    has won the highly political Nobel Prize shouldn't enter into the
    equation. Kissinger shared the Peace Prize in '73 and there are
    plenty of people in the world, with strong argument to support them,
    who would like to try him for crimes against humanity. Now that's
    some delicious irony.

    > >4. "All other systems that have been tried have
    > >failed." (Russia, Cuba, this arguement is a joke.)

    > Yes, a joke, and one in particularly poor taste.  And
    > capitalism hasn't failed?

    What's funny or in poor taste about citing the millions slaughtered
    under Communism?

    msh says:
    Nothing. Nor is there anything funny about the millions slaughtered
    in wars for resources and markets.

    Oh, I forgot. Chomsky was an admirer of Mao and Ho
    Chi Min.

    msh says:
    There's that tone again. There's a lot to admire about Ho Chi Minh,
    and even Mao. But discussing this would require you to have some
    exposure to actual historical information about these men. And about
    the struggle for Vietnam's independence from French colonialism, and
    US involvement against that struggle. Start with the Pentagon Papers
    and read backward into history.

    > >5. Capitalism is the only viable system, that's why
    > >it's the only one that is still functioning.

    > First, nothing remotely like capitalism exists.  Is the
    > US economy, relying crucially on the dynamic state
    > sector, a capitalist economy?

    Relying on a dynamic state sector? A "dynamic" state is an oxymoron
    if ever I saw one.

    msh says:
    He's referring to state investment in the development of technology
    which, when it becomes profitable, is turned over to the private
    sector; also about the huge injections of cash into the economy via
    the military-industrial complex. Also about tax-payer bailouts of
    failing and corrupt businesses such as the recent airline fiascos and
    the criminal of the Enron and S&L scandals, to name but a few.

    Ever try to mail a package or get a driver's license? Static the
    state is, dynamic it ain't.

    Lemme know the next time you get FedEx to deliver a letter, door-to-
    door, cross country, in a couple of days, for less than 40 cents.

    > >6. The competition inherent in capitalism creates
    > >innovations and produces things that would not be
    > >possible in other systems.

    > Have a look at the actual history of innovation, as
    > barely hinted above.

    Yeah, take a look at U.S. and British innovation vs. rest o' world. I
    mean, just look and be amazed. No need to cite all the inventions
    from the light bulb to atomic energy.

    I believe his point is not that western economies haven't produced
    some nifty things, but that these things are not a result of
    invention and creativity inspired by pursuit of profit in imaginary

    Besides these obvious flaws in Chomsky's arguments, he sprinkles them
    with condescending remarks such as, "is it even worth debating
    arbitrary claims," "massively refuted by even the most casual
    observation, "too obvious even too waste time discussing,"
    "worshipping on the basis of concocted mythology," and "This is
    beyond absurdity." Well, excuse me. Who made you God, Chomsky? In my
    book, you've raised snake-oil selling to new heights.

    msh says:
    I don't agree about the flaws, but I do agree that his email
    personality is sometimes condescending and dismissive, even
    insulting. It's something we are all guilty of from time to time.
    Take a look at your own tone above.

    I regard this kind of stuff as part of the pose and show-biz of email
    correspondence, and tend to just let it pass, UNLESS it is used in
    place of argument and evidence. If you ever get a chance to read
    some of his scholarly work you'll see that his tone, though sometimes
    sarcastic in a witty way, is never dismissive.

    Thanks for your thoughts. Lemme know how you want me to phrase your
    question to Chomsky.

    Mark Steven Heyman (msh)

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