Re: MD the ideology of capitalism - what is capitalism?

From: Sam Norton (
Date: Mon May 16 2005 - 13:32:56 BST

  • Next message: Sam Norton: "Re: MD the ideology of capitalism - what is capitalism"

    Hi Mark,
    More in this thread.

    > Yes, I agree we need an understanding of what capitalism is, and
    > what it does, and how, and for whom. I don't see that anyone has
    > added much to this understanding since Smith and Marx, other than
    > some attempts to make the concept of exploitation for profit
    > palatable to more sensitive minds.

    Please, please, please try and articulate your understanding of capitalism.

    > I appreciate the expanded presentation of De Soto's lake metaphor,
    > but let's see if we can cut it down to a few sentences.
    > De Soto's underlying assumption is that private ownership of land
    > (the lake) is the key to unlocking its potential as a capital asset.
    > That is, before this capital potential can be released, someone must
    > have clear title to the land. and this is why a formalized system of
    > property record management is necessary. A lake needs a dam to
    > release its energy, and assets need a formal property system to
    > release their potential surplus value.
    > Now, reading these few sentences, some obvious questions arise. On
    > what grounds does he assume that private rather than common ownership
    > is necessary for the release of economic potential? And, assuming
    > private ownership of land can be justified, how does one decide the
    > issue of clear title without considering the moral dimensions of land
    > ownership in the first place? That is, how do we decide the
    > legitimacy not only of claims to title, but to "legally" recognized
    > titles as well? If the moral legitimacy is not explored, and we
    > simply grant moral and legal standing to all existing titles and
    > claims, then we are merely entrenching the existing highly unequal
    > distribution of land, in which case there is no reason to believe
    > that capitalism will benefit everyone in equal proportion.

    I've touched on part of this previously, but here I would want to emphasise
    that the main beneficiaries of his proposal are the millions of poor people
    who have workable economic assets that are invisible to the "capitalist"
    system. What the effect would be is to _equalise_ the various shares of
    wealth; it would specifically NOT entrench current inequalities. It is the
    _exact_opposite_ of what you are assuming.

    Please read the book. Or explore it further on line.

    > sam:
    > De Soto's main point, in fact, is that the problem in Third World
    > countries is not the presence of capitalism, but the absence, in
    > other words, that those countries are still operating at the social
    > level, and it is the absence of the intellectual level phenomenon of
    > capitalism (i.e. the abstract representations of economic assets)
    > which is hindering their economic development. De Soto's book is an
    > extended argument as to how and why this is the case.
    > msh says:
    > This simply reaffirms De Soto's status as an apologist for western
    > capitalism. He just ASSUMES it's the best way to go.

    Grrrr. How can you make that assertion without having read the book? How can
    you discard all the research that he has done, along with his team, and
    which he describes in the book?

    > This
    > completely ignores the historical reality behind imperialist
    > invasions of foreign lands, as well as modern western "interventions"
    > into third world countries, which continue to be carried out in order
    > to PREVENT them from establishing their own economic models if those
    > models deviate one iota from western capitalism. Apropos to your MOQ
    > comments, this is the suppression not the embrace of DQ. In the
    > process of preventing the realization of viable alternatives to
    > western capitalism, more markets are forced open, more resources are
    > privitized, and more cheap labor is secured. Western capitalism,
    > backed by western power, is indeed their problem.

    I think this is largely beside the point that de Soto is making. What he is
    arguing for would _defend_ people against the West.

    > sam:
    > Now, the foregoing is the conceptual analysis of 'capitalism', and to
    > summarise, it is my view that capitalism is the intellectual level
    > representation and organisation of economic assets in such a way that
    > new forms of Quality can come into existence. The question might then
    > be - is this the best or the only intellectual level organisation of
    > economic assets?
    > msh says:
    > Of course. And this is the question that should be answered before
    > we start cheerleading for capitalism. Although it's true that
    > capitalism sometimes has a hand in producing new forms of Quality,
    > your optimism seems to overlook the tremendous negations of Quality
    > that occur as a byproduct.

    I think we're still just circling around going nowhere, because you haven't
    actually given an account of what you think capitalism is, and how it
    relates to the level of the MoQ. Specifically, do you disagree that the
    representation of assets is a fourth level activity? If so, why? Do you
    disagree that it is intellectual - even though it is quite obviously centred
    on the manipulation of symbols (RMP's definition of the fourth level) - or
    do you discount it on other grounds?

    > msh says:
    > As with any statistics, the value of Lomborg's numbers can be
    > debated, Much depends on the methods of data sampling,
    > verification, and interpretive modeling.
    > But let's assume that his numbers are accurate, and go right to his
    > conclusion:
    > 'Things are not everywhere good [he's mainly concerned with Africa]
    > but they are better than they used to be". As he puts it, "All in
    > all, pretty incredible progress."
    > msh continues:
    > Saying that things are better than they used to be isn't saying much
    > about the reasons. I think a case can be made that science and
    > humanitarian aid, and other NGO involvement, play a major part.
    > Besides, if the positive change is a result of the spread of
    > capitalism, what accounts for the huge poverty levels in the richest,
    > capitalist countries in the world? If the capitalist model is the
    > most equitable, how do we account for the GROWING world-wide gap
    > between the rich and poor? That is, why aren't things getting better
    > for everyone in equal proportion?

    You're running together two different understandings of poverty, viz
    'absolute poverty' (ie not enough to eat) with 'relative poverty' (ie there
    are more people richer than me now). Let's come back to these questions once
    we get closer to a common language regarding what capitalism is.


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