Thursday, 2 October 2008

A blueprint for change - What is the alternative??

. Charlotte Gore writes below;

"Capitalism does not have to be progressive. It is a system for allocation of resources and nothing more.

Can I ask: What is your alternative?"

Firstly, Charlotte is wrong that capitalism is a "system for allocation of resources and nothing more". It is a system of the exchange of goods and services with it's raison d etere being the accumulation of more capital. Resources are therefore allocated to those ends. However, her question is a valid one that deserves an answer. Let's try and answer it in parts.

  • Extension of democracy: People spend the majority of their lives at work yet this is the sphere where they have least control over their lives. Surely for any democrat this is a huge deficit that needs addressing? Our own policy paper entitled 'Rights and Responsibilities at Work' has a whole section praising the model of 'works councils' but "does not feel they should be compulsory". Furthermore, it only envisions a 'consultative role' for these bodies but does not propose to give them any power. People like Charlotte have criticised 'reckless' CEO's in the banking sector but currently the only way to hold them to account is to introduce more regulation by central government which she also seems to be hostile too; properly empowered works councils would however act as a check and balance on the self-same CEO's whose recklessness has highlighted the endemic flaws in the capitalist system. Giving people a say, a stake in their workplace will no doubt have many benefits including the raising of productivity, increased motivation etc.
  • Planning: This is always a thorny issue on the left because the bureaucratic command Soviet-style economy failed and nationalised industries have been limited in their success. Planning unleavened by the flour of democracy mentioned above will always be doomed to fail; as will capitalist planning which has as it's goal the maximisation of profits. Capitalist planning frequently ends-up in practice resembling complete and abject chaos because it's goal isn't to rationally allocate resources; as I said above it's goal is to accumulate more capital. This is why I have always said that the CEO's in question actually acted perfectly within the remit of the system and it's own logic and can only be blamed for the current crisis in so far as they merely followed the logic of the profit motive.
  • Equality: Again this is a tricky concept on the left because it is often assumed by it's critics that equality means 'everybody being the same' which is, of course, a patent absurdity. It is indeed a utopian ideal which does more harm than good in this discourse. However, it is worth noting the number of times it is used by proponents of capitalism who insist that it is in fact the system that is the best way to ensure some kind of meritocratic equality. This is however a myth; the fact is that a truly meritocratic society would never work under capitalism because it functions on the basis of necessary social division. Equality of opportunity for the individual is something that can only flourish through the extension of democracy and planning into economic life.
  • Role of the state: Currently the state both seeks to support the system when it invariably goes wrong (witness the 'bail-out') and also provide to a sufficient extent to maintain social cohesion; that is to stop significant numbers of people falling into absolute poverty which would lead to a very unstable society. However, the extension of democratic planning as posited above would see a significant reduction in the role the state plays in day-to-day living. Necessary services that are provided by the state would of course be part of planning. When it comes to questions of individual liberty like, for example, the introduction of ID cards then I am totally in favour of them being scrapped purely because they are unnecessary and invasive. Rolling back the frontiers of state power is a laudable goal but it is not the sole province of 'small-state' Conservatives; properly speaking it is the clarion call of the radical left. It should go without saying that the democratisation of economic life should be supported by radical reform and continuing democratic reform of political life.
  • Environmental factors: The environment we live in and have created for ourselves is something that is of increasing concern to people. Governments are scrambling to meet carbon emissions targets and people are becoming more environmentally conscious or at least it is to be hoped so; again this is a major area where democratic planning could have a huge impact both in terms of curtailing wasteful and damaging practices (kept because they are cheap and therefore most profitable) and providing sustainable solutions. My partner does sterling work promoting 'Bags for life' which is a good example of such a sustainable solution. Imagine how the scale and scope of these projects would be elevated in the impact they could achieve if they were integrated into planning how we produce and distribute resources. Plastic bags are a great example of bad practice which is perpetuated because of the profit-motive.

So, while not claiming to be a definitive answer to Charlotte's question, I would hope that it at least gives us a starting point for debate.





8 comments:

thomas said...

Darrell, you ask an interesting question, but you could sharpen it up a bit.

I think you are possibly miscomprehending the premise behind such a system and therefore setting yourself automatically in opposition without giving yourself the opportunity to fully explore the subject.

What exactly is necessarily wrong with systematically increasing the volume of resources at your disposal?

Well, nothing, except that it does't necessarily or systematically do so and they aren't always at your disposal.

Now, if we ask why, why and why this is so then I think we may get some answers about how to improve the current form of capitalism to make it fuller, fairer and freer.

Darrell G said...

Thomas,

I think i've made it pretty clear that I dont think capitalsim can be made fairer as you put it. When i say capitalsim relies on 'necessary social division' i think that should be pretty clearer.

What is the premise behind capitalism if not to actually purely increase profit? Profit is not a resource, it is the end product of the investment of resources....

thomas said...

Darrell, you aren't using your imagination.

Answer the reliable old question 'what is profit?' and you'll be forced to address the even older 'what is money?'

Because both of these are functions of resources neither is just a simple end, but also a beginning.

The ability to understand concepts in the abstract enables us to be creative and develop relationships to mutually benefitial exchanges.

I'm guessing that you are interposing assumed prior political values onto your personal understanding rather than seeing the variability which undermines such rigid structural thinking.

'Capitalism' isn't inherently 'conservative' or 'right-wing', so I don't know why you choose to confuse the issue by persisting with this false assumption.

Darrell G said...

Profit is not a resource as such to my mind. Yes it is possible that it can be reinvested but then it ceases to be profit. The point remains that the system becomes top-heavy with accumulated profit and that is exactly what has happened in this crisis...

Banks have been gorging themselves for years, offering more and more credit to make more and more profit and now the balance has been tipped and they can no longer either bail each other out or get the money back from the people they lent to in the first places......

How has this exchange been mutually beneficial?? In fact, its been mutually ruinous to both the banks and the people they lent too....

Because it is the existing social order then I am afraid I do view it as inherently right-wing or inherently about preserving things as they are....

thomas said...

Isn't the established social order just a teesy bit more diverse than you are recognising?

Are all banks guilty, or are the good ones weeding out the bad ones and their greedy customers?

Darrell G said...

Errr no not really...

Really dont understand your second point that much...i wasnt making a specific point about banks; i dont see a distinction between 'good' and 'bad' in the sense you think i do...i see a fatally flawed system...

thomas said...

So it's just the system which is flawed, not any of the people?
So how did the system get flawed if it was designed by people who aren't flawed (and therefore create flawless designs)?

And since we are all flawless people none of those who maxxed out their credit cards and piled on debt by remortgaging their houses are guilty of anything and it's the business which are guilty of everything.

It's the system's fault, right?

Wrong. Businesses are not machines, they are run by people.
People make mistakes in professional and private life.

If there is any blame to be shared around it must be burdened on all of us, just as we each feel the consequences of it.

If the system is flawed, it is because we are flawed. Any flaws in our system are a reflection of our flaws as a set of collected individuals.

Jews were said to be the problem with interwar German society, but did the attempt to eradicate them cure the illness in German society or expose it?

What you are suggesting is not radical, it is simply extreme.

I'd urge caution over use of phrases like 'fatally flawed', not only because do I think it is factually inaccurate, but it because leaves you no strategic wiggle room to adjust your views in the light of new or contradictory information.

There's always a temptation to make strident proclamations and nail your colours firmly to the mast, but if the ship goes down you'll go down with it.

Darrell G said...

Lets get this straight;

I never said the people werent flawed, what I did say was that they were merely following the logic of the system....

I'm going to leave the rest...the system is fatally flawed in such that it periodically collapses and yes then does get better.....this of course doesnt rule out a final fatal collapse but leaves plenty of 'wiggle room'...

...and it's not my ship going down is it so...