Friday, September 17, 2010

Chomsky refutes capitalist apologist

Listen to the first minute or so of this, if you can make it through the long-winded, and rather unlettered question from the audience that begins the clip.

The guy in the audience basically ends with the thought that capitalism has been triumphant because it has enabled rising standards of living (the clip is from 2006, so most of us will be scratching our heads when we hear this today in the midst of the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression).

Chomsky's response is excellent: slave societies, overtime, often saw a rise in the standard of living, but that doesn't suggest that slave societies were just by any stretch whatsoever. After all, black slaves in the United States were, in some respects, "better off" in the 19th Century than they had been in the 18th Century, but at the end of the day slavery was just as deplorable and horrifying in both centuries. As Malcolm X put it in a different context, "you don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you're making progress".

So whatever else is true, the mere fact that capitalism has enabled some modest increases in the standard of living is no argument in its favor, not unless we allow that the argument above is an argument for slavery.


Sheldon said...

Even given the rising standards of living brought by capitalism, the vast discrepencies between the poor and working class and the super rich is still obscene. It also doesn't address the fact that it is workers' labor that produces that wealth in the first place.

t said...

Agreed. But living standards, even for some workers, did increase during the period of 1945-1973 in the US and in much of Western Europe. True, there were still massive inequalities, and, of course, those were very much still capitalist societies. But there were moderate increases in the standard of living for many, even as wide sections of the population lived in poverty... and the point of the Chomsky thing, I take it, is that even though there were modest increases in the standard of living, this doesn't obscure the fact that capitalism is unjustifiable.

Often times, apologists for capitalism resort to this "capitalism has involved an increase in the standard of living" as a favorite tool in their shed. I like the Chomsky thing, because it shows that one of their favorite arguments is a bad one indeed. And I also think that it trades on a crucial point, easily missed, that capitalism isn't just oppressive and unjust because of the inequalities in consumption that it produces. It is oppressive and unjust because of the unequal amounts of power that it invests in the owners of capital: they dominate the political system, the economy, make all the big decisions about investment and employment, etc. etc. Workers don't have a voice, and ordinary people don't have a say in the conditions that structure their own lives.

Marx always says things like "people make their own history, BUT...". I think the idea of socialism is that we get rid of the "but". And no matter how much capitalism allows the level of consumption to rise modestly, it won't change the fact that capitalism is, at root, an oppressive and exploitative system in which the few profit from, and lord over the many.

John Steinsvold said...

An Alternative to Capitalism (which we need here in the USA)

Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: "There is no alternative". She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: "Home of the Brave?" which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

John Steinsvold

Perhaps in time the so-called dark ages will be thought of as including our own.
--Georg C. Lichtenberg