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Sunday, October 11, 2020

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I don't get the references to "capitalism". Does it mean something more than "freedom"? If I make that substitution, Caiti's words still make sense, and stripped of their normative implications are even true. It *is* freedom that allows people to commercialize sex, for example, at least in the sense that you could prevent that to some extent by limiting freedom.

But "capitalism" is usually contrasted with "socialism" or "communism", and in that form Caiti's words are false. I would then have to read him as implying that if only the United States were socialist rather than capitalist these evils would not have happened, but history shows how false that is. Socialism leads to an acceleration of all of the evils he named: declining social trust, increasing social insecurity, and "hollowing out of established modes of life and the latter expressed in the hyper development in privileged geographical enclaves and underdevelopment elsewhere), and the hyper-commodification of sexuality (disastrous for traditional familial and conjugal relations and Judaeo-Christian moral precepts)".

Socialism has all of those problems, and openly and deliberately subverts traditional family and conjugal relations and Judaeo-Christian moral precepts. So I have no idea what he means by "capitalism".

By “capitalism,” I mean a mode of production where the means (land, factories, machines, transport, etc.) by which commodities are produced for exchange are owned and controlled by a particular social class, the capitalist class, that relies on the labor of other, subordinate social classes, including but not only the traditional working class, that lacks such ownership, or disposes very small shares in it, and that depend on the sale of their labor to live. This is a unique productive relationship, in that it is not found in earlier, pre-capitalist modes of production, such as classical feudalism, sharecropping, various fixed rent arrangements, and slavery, and has as its raison d’etre the realization of profit through the exchange of commodities on the market; such profit, beyond enriching the owners of capital, is reinvested for the purpose of further and larger accumulation of capital, thus furthering economic growth and technological change. I realize that this very rough definition, given the complexity of today’s capitalist economy, has to be refined to take into account the presence of intermediary classes, but it suffices to convey my use of the term “capitalism,” which essentially relies on Marx’s analysis.

In relaying on this approach in classifying modes of production in terms of social relations, which I have found of great value in my own study of pre-capitalist social formations in Europe, I am no way advocating socialism, nor do I follow Marx in believing that capitalist social relations are inherently exploitative. I am not a socialist and regard capitalism as a superior system, and I quite agree with you that the deformations that accompany socialist forms of economy and society, not to mention the violence, are worse than those that we find in our own. However, the fact that socialism is so hostile to and destructive of t does not mean that we should remain blind to the fact that they are also being undermined by the global, technocratic capitalism under which we live today. The specifics of this process are too complex to comment on here, but processes are at work in our nation that are ravaging its historic communal, familial, political, and cultural forms, are linked to the current system.

>>However, the fact that socialism is so hostile to and destructive of t does not mean that we should remain blind to the fact that they are also being undermined by the global, technocratic capitalism under which we live today.<<

Excellent point, Vito, and your response to Gudeman was overall very good.

Vito, thank you for your response. It clarified your meaning. As you are no doubt aware, most people who use the word "capitalism" in conservative circles are not using the word in its Marxist sense but as a synonym for "free enterprise".

I still take issue with your analysis. Going through your description of capitalism and your description of the evils supposedly created by capitalism, I don't see any causal connections.

There may, for example, be a distinctive mode in which sex is commoditized in a capitalist society (I doubt this, but grant it for the sake of argument), but that doesn't mean that the commoditizing of sex is a peculiarly capitalist problem. Sex has been a commodity from time immemorial. Except for the middle class in capitalist or capitalist-adjacent economies, there have hardly been any society where husbands were generally loyal to their wives--and not that many where wives were loyal to their husbands when they could get away with it. In many societies, fathers sold their daughters for profit. In many societies, slave women were routinely sold or rented for sex.

As to social trust, in almost all pre-industrialization cities, people lived in family or tribal groups that defended each other and were suspicious of and hostile towards those outside the family. You just expected merchants of a different tribe to try to cheat you. Mob actions were common; anyone could find himself suddenly mobbed and killed for offending someone from a more powerful family. These sorts of things do not foster social trust.

In a capitalist economy the powerful benefit from honest merchants and social trust, so those things were encouraged. Also to the extent that it created a working class (I think you are exaggerating the extent to which the US is a classed society) it turned all of these disparate families into a single working class with common interests, and that actually increased social trust.

Tribalism is making a big comeback in the US, but it is not driven by capitalist interests; it is driven by socialists and communists and by members of the capital-owning class who are trying to turn the capitalist system into an oligarchy with themselves on top.

I'm just not seeing how capitalism itself is responsible for any of the things you blamed on it.

Vito, I belatedly realize that I may not have completely undone the mis-impression that I am arguing: "you shouldn't criticize capitalism because other systems are worse". Let me state explicitly that what I intended to argue is that the United States is not special in this sense; that the social ills you named are common to all sorts of societies and that their causes in the United States are no different than their causes in other societies (namely, the fallen nature of man).

Blaming these social ills on side effects of an economic system is like blaming the fact that people can't flap their arms and fly on the economic system. It is true everywhere in all economic systems, so any argument that it is somehow caused by a particular economic system in a particular time and place rather than by gravity like everywhere else requires a lot more evidence than you have offered--and also requires an explanation why those other causes are not operative in the United States.

Mr Gudeman - surely Dr Caiati's argument is not that these evils have never existed before, or didn't exist in the US previously, but that capitalism has altered at some point in the last few decades from being primarily a conservative force to one which has been increasingly harnessed by those aspiring oligarchs you mention. So (the argument runs) these social evils are on the increase and are being exarcebated by the behaviour of many in the capitalist class who promote social attitudes, activism, or legislation which destroy those social institutions which act as barriers against the worst tendencies of capitalism. As ever the Left supports, on the social level and often inadvertantly, the very thing it claims to oppose - the penetration of the market into more and more facets of life.

The pattern has been similar in other Western countries, such as mine (the UK). I think Dr Caiati is right, and not just about the US: the crux of our problems now is this union of 'liberal' social values with a monopoly capitalism which has combined with information technology to become a force for real destruction. The traditional social values that used to be upheld by Conservatives because they acted as breaks on the more destructive aspects of capitalism have now been undermined definitively by liberal legislation (a good deal of it passed by 'Conservative' parties). You don't have to be a Marxist to think that economic systems promote or discourage certain kinds of behaviour. Capitalism worked so well historically as a social organiser partly because it relies on the spread of certain socially beneficial values for success - thrift, diligence, prompt repayment of debt etc (on a small scale it still does, but it seems small businesses everywhere struggle to compete with giant corporations). It seems less clear today that that is the case. A technocratic managerial class has arisen who speak in a jargon-ridden language that devalues the language with words that have no obvious referent but rather are the expression of groupthink and a sort of linguistic sadism - a language which has increasingly informed the discourse of politicians and activists also. In that respect though the terms are different there seems little difference with the purpose of jargon under Communism. What's more, these people have no sense of patriotism, indeed openly despise their country, and consider normal people with disgust - especially those who hold traditional beliefs. In England large numbers of the middle-class look upon expressions of patriotism of even the mildest sort as at the very least deeply suspect, at worst proto-fascist.

But Mr Gudeman is correct that, as Margaret Thatcher said - 'there is no alternative' to the free market. Alternatives proposed by the anti-capitalist Left or Right are all more likely to increase social destruction than retard it. There just doesn't seem to be a more optimal arrangement of things in a complex industrial society. So if we can't 'stop' or replace capitalism, then how do we use the state to retard those capitalists who put their considerable weight behind socially destructive ideology in order to return capitalism, if possible, to its former beneficial role? Are things so bad now that it would require some kind of authoritarian dictatorship that retains market arrangements but destroys free speech a la Pinochet, or at the very least something like those illiberal democracies which have recently developed in Europe (Poland, Hungary), which needless to say is an abhorrent thought and would destroy our society as much as socialism. Short of mass religious conversion or something like it, is there any way of restoring public virtue? (not a rhetorical question).

"You don't have to be a Marxist to think that economic systems promote or discourage certain kinds of behaviour."
Suppose you argue that capitalism creates a profit-motive for prostitution and thereby leads to a reduction in sexual morality. That isn't a problem of capitalism; it is a problem of any economic system where individuals can exchange value for value, which is pretty much every economic system in reality if not in theory. Or suppose you argue that capitalism creates an incentive for the capital-owning class to suppress the freedoms of the working classes. Something completely analogous is true in every system--those who rule always have an incentive to suppress the freedoms of those who don't rule.

My suggestion is that when you analyze a claim about the evils of capitalism it almost always turns out to be just a mode of a problem that is present in every realistic economic system, which makes it peculiar to claim that the problem is "caused" by capitalism.

"But Mr Gudeman is correct that, as Margaret Thatcher said - 'there is no alternative' to the free market."
That is not my point. All I am concerned with is the claim that capitalism is the cause of social ills.

Mr. Gudeman,

Your response to Herbert fails address the historical specificity of the argument that he presents in the second paragraph of his contribution, where he attempts to distinguish between capitalism at an earlier stage in its development and its present form. He eloquently makes more explicit something of the historical process that motivated my quest post, which in no way seeks to claims to offer any proofs but rather to raise the issue. The “causal connections” that you seek can only be found in formal, lengthy analyses of the condition of modernity and post-modernity that take account of the immense socio-economic shifts of the last fifty or so years. My guest post was intended to provoke a rethinking by conservatives of the assumption that contemporary capitalism must simply be taken as an economic, social, and cultural force for the good. As I argued in an earlier comment to Bill (9/7/20):

"I am increasingly convinced that this federal republic of ours, the product of early capitalist and pre-capitalist social forces, that is, of a particular historical conjuncture in the history of early modern Europe and its colonial offshoots, is at odds with the underlying interests of contemporary corporate capital, whose ruling class and the myriad of minions who either serve it directly or are sustained and tolerated by it--all anti-national, globalist, technocratic, anti-democratic, and anti-(classical) liberal to one degree of another--and that they are determined to sweep it away."

It seems to me, as it does to Hector and a growing number of social conservatives, that the above view cannot simply be dismissed. The neo-liberal moment that dominated conservative thought for the last four decades is over. The question for us now is how to move beyond it. The appearance of Donald Trump and the rise of the new Right in Europe are signs that the old conservative consensus is giving way, however messily and clumsily, to something new. Thus, we should not be surprised at the moving to center stage of issues such as economic nationalism, that is, the protection of our manufacturing base and the communities associated with it or in the curtailment of illegal immigration so as to safeguard American employment and social and political stability. Implicit in each of these political moves, both here and in Europe (Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, etc.) is the recognition that the interest of global capital, so touted in neo-liberal circles, including much of the Republican Party (in these cases, free exchange and open boarders), are harmful to our national interest. In other words, woke, global capital—and the class that controls it—is a specific historical cause of some of the nation’s most pressing problems.

As to the broader argument, that is, your contention that “when you analyze a claim about the evils of capitalism it almost always turns out to be just a mode of a problem that is present in every realistic economic system, which makes it peculiar to claim that the problem is "caused" by capitalism,” you confuse the underlying moral state of man, which I agree appears to be fallen, with the expressions of that state across the vast stretches of human history, which is punctuated by the presence of immensely diverse economic and social systems. For instance, you argue “sex is commoditized in a capitalist society (I doubt this, but grant it for the sake of argument), but that doesn't mean that the commoditizing of sex is a peculiarly capitalist problem. Sex has been a commodity from time immemorial.” Here, you confuse the existence of, say, prostitution and pornography, which although existing throughout human history, have been peripheral market phenomena, confined to particular, limited urban milieus and particular social strata, with the mass commoditization of sex today, from advertising; to the media, including television and films; to electronic “hook-up sites”; to pornography, now electronic and universal; and so on. No prior society, including more classical capitalist ones, so well described by Hector, has offered sex as a mass commodity; it is only under the most recent form of capitalism that this has occurred, and the link between the tendency of capital to commoditize objects and states of mind, including the most intimate aspects of human life, is undeniable.

I could go on and on with this sort of thing, but I will stop here. Hector may well be right that in stating that “there just doesn't seem to be a more optimal arrangement of things in a complex industrial society” This is certainly a possibility, although we might find new institutional arrangements to temper the nefarious effects of the present system, but maybe not. However, we should not take any solace if the former is the case, since it means that the present moment of our fallen state, which, after all, follows that of the murderous last century, bodes very ill for our country, our culture, and our souls.

P.S. Excuse me, Hector, for writing your name incorrectly times.

Dr Caiati - that is quite all right. Friends in school used to call me Herbert due to an initial mishearing which stuck!

Mr Gudeman - apologies for misreading you re: the free market - reading between the lines I assumed that that was what you were arguing. Dr Caiati's reply makes the same points I would. You state an example: 'capitalism creates a profit-motive for prostitution and thereby leads to a reduction in sexual morality' - exactly our point. If true, that is a problem exacerbated by an economic system - just as socialism is a bad system because, among many other things, it destroys incentive (except among the planners). Economic systems do change behaviour, and create changes in perception of value. Economic systems are not neutral. If we rightly blame Communist economies for producing or exacerbating many social ills, it is perfectly reasonable to state that capitalism also produces or could produce social ills.  

'Something completely analogous is true in every system--those who rule always have an incentive to suppress the freedoms of those who don't rule.'

Actually, it's not - it's well established in anthropology that this is not true of many primitive societies, where cooperation is the norm and economic hierarchies are often carefully prevented by social arrangements (kinship structures, etc.) that disperse power equitably. No-one 'rules' and no person in power decreed the rules. Rather they are 'ruled' by a social system which is outside anyone's conscious control. Inequalities between people in these societies, if they exist, often have no connection to their relative economic status, if there are indeed any differing stasus of this kind. This stops being possible when societies and economies reach a certain level of complexity, and eventually states emerge.

One minor point - is it true that pornography has existed throughout history? Unless you mean history as the past of literate societies as distinct from prehistory or the past of non-literate societies, I should imagine pornography has not existed for most of homo sapien's past. The stone age cultures which produced fertility images like the Venus of Willendorf are unlikely to have understood these images in any sense as what we would call pornographic. I'd argue that there's also a crucial difference between literary or non-photographic visual pornography and photographic or filmic pornography - the latter depicting real people simulating or, more commonly nowadays, performing real acts.

Sir Roger Scruton talked of conservatives as 'reluctant capitalists', and I think the reluctance is growing for many. Just to clarify, my views on the free market are basically dependent on Hayek's writings about information and the price system. That is why I think free markets are probably the optimal arrangement. However, I don't think an internal (national) free market and certain protections at the international level are mutually exclusive. That's one of the points we need to make - these things have usually been lumped together as necessarily interconnected. But if a country like China is not playing by the rules of trade, then the market is not free and it is right to react with sanctions or new rules that punish the transgression. I think that's Trump's position. I say this, because I think this is perhaps the key issue for this discussion among social conservatives, and I'd like to see more focus on it.

I'd also argue one of the main issues is that technology is so often seen as value-neutral by the Right. George Grant's and Jacques Ellul's prophetic works on technology were part of what took me down this line of thought about capitalism, and though I mostly despise Marxism and its cumbrous and inhuman metaphysics, I think we need to revisit the chapter on commodity fetishism in Marx's 'Das Kapital' and Gyorgy Lukacs's writings on reification in 'History and Class Consciousness', which I think can be taken seriously by conservatives without us having to follow them all the way. I believe some of Christopher Dawson's writings relate to this issue of technology and capitalism contra liberalism, but I have yet to fully explore those. Here's the gist though:
https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/christopher-dawson-on-technology-and-the-demise-of-liberalism.html

Perhaps we might also study Heidegger on technology and Gabriel Marcel. I think we might need to go slightly off the usual conservative reading list to get any idea of how to proceed, and it'd be useful for conservatives around the world to discuss this!

Sorry for such a long comment - I hope this has given you all some further food for thought.

Caiti, I thought the application of my general response to Hector's points should be obvious, but it seems it was not, so here:

"these social evils are on the increase and are being exarcebated by the behaviour of many in the capitalist class who promote social attitudes, activism, or legislation which destroy those social institutions which act as barriers against the worst tendencies of capitalism"

This is an indictment of the people in power, not of capitalism. There is no reason to think that the people in power would behave differently if the economic system were different.

"this union of 'liberal' social values with a monopoly capitalism which has combined with information technology to become a force for real destruction"

Again, not an indictment of capitalism. It is an indictment of any system where a small number of elitists control information. This is *less* likely in a capitalist system than most other systems, so blaming capitalism for it makes no sense. It's like blaming hand washing for the spread of salmonella because one restaurant had a faucet contaminated with salmonella that ended up infecting people from hand washing. It wasn't the hand washing; it was the contaminated faucet.

The rest of Hector's comment draws no connection to capitalism so far as I can see. It's just an account of how Hector sees recent history with no obvious causal connection to the economic system.

As to the rest of your comment, you seem to be under the impression that conservatives have in the past supported "capitalism" in the Marxist sense. I very strongly dispute that. As I said before, conservatives use "capitalism" as another word for "free enterprise" (a practice I have occasionally criticized people for). Hardly any conservative believes that the development of a two-class owner/worker society is a good thing in itself. To the extent that it happens, it is an unavoidable consequence of freedom and private property.

As to free trade and open borders, if you continue to conflate the ideas of
1. a two-class society of owners and workers,
2. free trade,
and
3. open borders
as if they are all of a part with
4. free enterprise
under the ambiguous term of "capitalism", you are doing nothing but making the issue murkier. These are four different issues and are seen as four different issues by most conservatives. I've never heard of a conservative in favor of 1. A lot of conservatives are in favor of 2--perhaps a majority. Only a very small (but heavily funded) minority has ever been in favor of 3. Almost all conservatives are in favor of 4.

Hector,
Again, we find ourselves in substantial agreement on the central point on this discussion, which, as you concisely state, involves the assertion that “Economic systems do change behaviour, and create changes in perception of value. Economic systems are not neutral. If we rightly blame Communist economies for producing or exacerbating many social ills, it is perfectly reasonable to state that capitalism also produces or could produce social ills.” For some reason, Mr Gudeman, as his most recent comments evince, fails to grasp the evident alignment of our views on this matter.

More specifically, I was struck by your observation that “we need to revisit the chapter on commodity fetishism in Marx's 'Das Kapital' and Gyorgy Lukacs's writings on reification in 'History and Class Consciousness,” for coincidently, just today, I was strongly inclined to review Marx’s writings on commodity fetishism and alienation, along with some modern commentaries on them. Relatedly, I believe that you are quite right in questioning the treatment of technology as “value-neutral by the Right”; this is a line of thought that needs to be pursued.

Thank you for your comments, which give me much to think about. Vito

In closing, let me just say to Mr. Gudeman, that in presenting my view in the final paragraph of your latest comment, you veer so far from it as to reduce it to a mere caricature. I certainly do not think, for instance, that the complex capitalist social formations of Western Europe and the United States are “two-class societ[ies] of owners and workers.” As I specifically stated in my initial response to you, “ I realize that this is a very rough definition, given the complexity of today’s capitalist economy, has to be refined to take into account the presence of intermediary classes, but it suffices to convey my use of the term “capitalism….” Why he should have missed this point and particular the mention of "intermediary classes" is beyond me. As to the issue of borders, it all depends what you mean by “open”; certainly, almost all conservatives oppose illegal immigration, but during the now fading neo-liberal moment, many, including the ruling faction of the Republican Party, supported generous infusions of immigrant labor to this country, regardless of its effects on the native working classes. Finally, it is precisely the nature of what you call “free enterprise” that is the core of the question; to assume a correspondence between earlier forms of this mode of production, as for instance the competitive capitalism of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and its present physiognomy is simply naïve; so terms such as “free enterprise” are, at best, of limited value in understanding what we are living with at present. This is why many conservatives today are moving beyond this clichés.

Finally, please note that this will be my concluding response to you here, since I regard further discussion as unfruitful. Both the content and the tone of your latest comment disincline me from further engagement. This said, I send my best wishes to you.
Vito Caiati

Mr Gudeman, I write at length in the hope that the following will clear up any possible confusions we are still having. If it doesn't, though I have enjoyed our discussion, I think we shall have to call it quits or we might go on forever!

a) Once again, I am not universally condemning capitalism, nor saying it is the sole cause of (certain) contemporary ills. I'm trying, within the scope of relatively short blog comments (short, he says!), to suggest ways that capitalism is itself contributing to certain ills. Accurate analysis of this should help us think of ways of reforming the system so we can retain its beneficial aspects, which I haven't denied.

b) there is every reason to think the people in power would behave differently if the economic system were different. I can't see how it could be denied that economic systems lead to different socio-cultural values, including the behaviour of those at the top, though of course some of the same features of negative behaviour would be seen, human nature being what it is. Feudal or Communist leaders display a different though overlapping set of negative qualities from democratic leaders under capitalism.

c) if capitalism has led (and I'm not suggesting that it had to lead to this in some deterministic way) to this situation, then that is an indictment of capitalism as it actually exists, not as a theoretical ahistorical construct.

d) This state of affairs might be less likely under capitalism, yet it has happened, so clearly it is not impossible, and so its relative likeliness or unlikeliness is not relevant to the issue of whether capitalism as it stands has indeed led to a certain state of affairs. Also, very similar developments can be seen in many advanced capitalist economies. I have also stated that I don't think there are any obvious alternatives that wouldn't make things worse, but I agree with Dr Caiati that if this is the best we can do things are looking pretty bleak.

e) that something is less likely under one system doesn't mean that system isn't to blame for the ills it causes. Your analogy is flawed because in that instance it would indeed be the handwashing that was to blame for the spread of salmonella as well as the infected tap, even though it would not of course universally be the reason that salmonella spreads. Dr Caiati and myself have both stated that we do not think that capitalism is the sole cause of social ills, or that in every case it is destructive, indeed we seem to agree that up until the recent past it was not primarily destructive. 

f) a more arguable point, but I think it is highly unlikely that information tech monopolies could have occured in any other existent economic system past or present without the existence of capitalism somewhere in the world, because the likelihood something as technologically advanced as computing could have been developed without competition driving innovation in an industrial society etc is very low.

g) how I see recent history is necessarily interpretive. I was giving an illustration of a recent and negative development that seems, to me at least, to be intimately linked with contemporary capitalism - the linguistic aspect certainly has no parallel I can think of in historical systems, except perhaps in Communist states. Surely the development of a managerial elite and its value-system is connected to the economic system. But I don't think I can make all the necessary connections and arguments in the space of a comment on a blog post (it would in fact probably require a book length analysis) and I doubt anyone could reasonably expect me to. I have however pointed to certain thinkers who I think can help with this analysis. I hope you will find them helpful also if you have the time to read them.

h) Dr Caiati gave an excellent account of what he means by capitalism. I don't think it could be described as Marxist or murky. It seems to me to be an account most economists, historians, etc of whatever party or faction would accept. My arguments are based on the same definition. If one grants his definition, then I believe his argument is correct. Disputing his definition does not make him incorrect except, if you are correct, in the matter of definition. That would at most mean he has made an error in his terminology. If one does dispute his definition, we are just going around the houses before getting to the heart of the matter and there is little point in arguing about his points further down the chain of reasoning. Granting what he calls 'capitalism' exists (whatever else we might call it), which seems indisputable, does it lead to the problems we are describing?

i) I don't think conservatives in Britain and Europe simply mean 'free enterprise' when they discuss capitalism - though conservatives might well do in the US - I can't say for sure because I'm not American. American conservatism is culturally very distinctive, and not always well understood even by conservative foreigners.

j) Conservatives past and present usually support, however indirectly, the status quo of social relations, at least to some extent. They may distinguish between the necessarily negative consequences of a system (class division) and the positive outcome, but there is some sense that they accept the former because they think it is an inevitable outcome, even if they do not actively support it (unless they are actively campaigning for amelioration or reform, which usually happens when a certain set of social relations is seen as no longer necessary to the system's survival, has led to dangerous unrest, or is too gravely evil to continue to ignore). Maurice Cowling went so far as to say that the Tory party exists to preserve inequalities! Plenty of conservatives in the past, in my country at least, certainly have actively defended a socio-economic class system, for example trying to prevent the repeal of legal sanctions against Catholics, the expansion of the franchise even to one in five adult males as in 1832, and the political participation of unpropertied labourers. Those were all large disputes in 19th century Britain, partially occuring within the Tory/Conservative parties themselves. There are plenty of parallels across European history. And of course through much of the 19th century US there were conservatives who defended slavery (as there were in Britain in the early decades of that century).

At any rate, your example shows that certain ills do follow from our system - the 'unavoidable consequence' of a two-class society!

Hector and Vito,

Comments such as yours are as good as they are rare.

Thanks for contributing.

Vito, I'm sorry that you found something in the tone of my response to offend you. It was not intentional on my part. Hector, if you likewise found something untoward in my tone when I replied to you, it was unintentional there as well.

As you both noted, it is unlikely we are going to get anywhere, but I would like to clear up some misunderstandings:

1. Vito, I did not miss the qualifications you made in your definition of capitalism; I was taking it as a given and abbreviating my description under what I thought was a mutual understanding that your stated qualifications applied. Suffice it to say that most conservatives in the US, when they endorse "capitalism" are not endorsing a system of multiple classes at all. Most conservatives in the US are strongly in favor of a classless society.

2. Vito, you write: "it is precisely the nature of what you call “free enterprise” that is the core of the question; to assume a correspondence between earlier forms of this mode of production, as for instance the competitive capitalism of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and its present physiognomy is simply naïve; so terms such as “free enterprise” are, at best, of limited value in understanding what we are living with at present."

I don't know where you think I made that assumption. Obviously the amount of free enterprise in various western economies has changed over the centuries. It even changes from year to year depending on who is in control of the government. The conservative position is generally that there is an optimal amount of free enterprise somewhere between a market unconstrained by law and where the US is today.

3. Hector, you write: "Once again, I am not universally condemning capitalism, nor saying it is the sole cause of (certain) contemporary ills. I'm trying, within the scope of relatively short blog comments (short, he says!), to suggest ways that capitalism is itself contributing to certain ills."

I understand that. I never thought you were blaming all social ills on capitalism. I thought you were saying that certain specific social ills can be blamed on capitalism.

4. Hector, you write: "I can't see how it could be denied that economic systems lead to different socio-cultural values"

I, on the other hand, find this extremely doubtful. I have blamed certain social ills on socialism or communism, but not because the economic system caused those social ills, rather because the political philosophy behind socialism or communism caused those ills. Families didn't break down the the Soviet Union because the state controlled the means of production; families were deliberately destroyed by policy. Teenagers were taken from their homes and put in large co-ed dorms and given a quart of vodka every night to drink. Naturally, this led to a breakdown of sexual morality which destroyed family structure--that was the intention (along with creating a continuous supply of promiscuous young women for the men in power to take advantage of). The economic system had nothing to do with it.

5. "Feudal or Communist leaders display a different though overlapping set of negative qualities from democratic leaders under capitalism."

Naturally, democratic leaders will behave differently from totalitarian leaders, who will behave differently from--I don't know what to call it--the restricted monarchical powers of English feudalism, but economics is a relatively minor influence on this. If a democratic communism should happen, the leaders of that government would look a lot like the democratic leaders of a society based on free enterprise, and totalitarian leaders in nations with free enterprise would behave a lot like totalitarian communists.

This is an over simplification, of course. It's hard to imagine that a democratic communism could last long, and it's hard to see how a government that allows free enterprise could be truly totalitarian, but the point is that what influence the leaders is not the means of production, but the means of acquiring and exerting political power.

6. "I think it is highly unlikely that information tech monopolies could have occured in any other existent economic system past or present without the existence of capitalism"

I agree. If what you mean by "capitalism causes X" is "the wealth generated by free enterprise made X possible or more likely", then we may not disagree at all except in terminology.

7. "Dr Caiati gave an excellent account of what he means by capitalism. I don't think it could be described as Marxist or murky."

First, I didn't use "Marxist" in any derogatory sense; I only meant that he was using the term as defined by Marx. I believe he even said so. Second, I didn't disagree with his definition. I adopted it for the remainder of the conversation, only pointing out at the end of my last message that it would cause confusion among "conservatives". You correctly pointed out that what I meant was "American conservatives". It would not surprise me at all to learn that European conservatives are more familiar with the writings of Marx than American conservatives are.

8. "At any rate, your example shows that certain ills do follow from our system - the 'unavoidable consequence' of a two-class society"

I think like an engineer. You don't just say "X causes Z"; you say "X causes Y which causes Z". This gives you more flexibility to analyze trade-offs and find solutions.

Mr Gudeman,

You didn't offend me, but I confess I am still struggling to see anything coherent in your position.

'I, on the other hand, find this extremely doubtful. I have blamed certain social ills on socialism or communism, but not because the economic system caused those social ills, rather because the political philosophy behind socialism or communism caused those ills.'

Extremely doubtful - really?! That's quite an extreme position. And you don't think any social ills directly result from an economic system that frequently causes near-permanent shortages and shoddy goods and famine? But now we're going round in circles.

The political philosophy behind socialist or communist states is inseparable from its economic theory. As far as Marxism is concerned, political organisation is economic organisation. Examples of social ills resulting from the economic policy of the state under Communism abound - dekulakisation in the Soviet Union, the Great Famine in China, just about everything under the Khmer Rouges (Democratic Kampuchea's head of state, Khieu Samphan was an economist).

How could it be maintained that the differences in socio-cultural values between a hunter-gathering society and a capitalist society aren't in part due to their economic structures?

On the use of 'Marxist' - that's entirely my fault for expressing myself poorly. I meant to say it could not solely be described as Marxist in some party or factional sense - Dr Caiati's description derives from Marx's analysis but is not therefore Marxist. Marxists would agree with the description, but descriptions of capitalism by many social scientists and historians of different political persuasions often derive at least partly from his work. What I meant to say was that there's nothing of Marxism in the political sense contained in the description - no dialectical materialism, historical materialism, labour theory of value, etc - nothing, in short, which would make it unacceptable to most historians or social scientists of different political viewpoints. Certainly, in my experience it is the prevailing understanding in Britain.

Let's leave it at that. Perhaps you might find something of interest in those writers I mentioned. Best wishes, and toodle-oo!

Well, Hector, of the three people who have commented, all either disagree or think I'm talking nonsense (to get to three, I'm drawing inferences from Bill's comments), so the fault must be mine.

In any case, thank you for your patience.

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