Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Economy of Working; the Evil of Over-toil

"The Miners' Conference at Leeds [in 1863] was in many respects a notable gathering. Instead of the formless interchange of talk which had marked the previous conference, [Alexander] MacDonald induced the fifty-one delegates who sat from the 9th to the 14th of November 1863 at the People's Co-operative Hall to organise their meeting on the model of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, and divide themselves into three sections, on Law, on Grievances, and on Social Organisation, each of which reported to the whole conference. . . ." -- Sidney and Beatrice Webb, The History of Trade Unionism.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Carbon Democracy

From Carbon Democracy by Timothy Mitchell:
The term ‘democracy’ can have two kinds of meaning. It can refer to ways of making effective claims for a more just and egalitarian common world. Or it can refer to a mode of governing populations that employs popular consent as a means of limiting claims for greater equality and justice by dividing up the common world. Such limits are formed by acknowledging certain areas as matters of public concern subject to popular decision while establishing other fields to he administered under alternative methods of control. For example, governmental practice can demarcate a private sphere governed by rules of property, a natural world governed by laws of nature, or markets governed by principles of economics. Democratic struggles become a battle over the distribution of issues, attempting to establish as matters of public concern questions that others claim as private (such as the level of wages paid by employers), as belonging to nature (such as the exhaustion of natural resources or the composition of gases in the atmosphere), or as ruled by laws of the market (such as financial speculation). In the mid-twentieth century, this logic of distribution began to designate a large new field of government whose rules set limits to alternative political claims: the field that became known as the economy.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Moishe Postone: Thinking the Global Crisis

At South Atlantic Quarterly, Perspectives on the Global Crisis
More and more labor is being rendered superfluous, even as the organization of capitalist society remained predicated on its existence. One result is a growing maldistribution of labor time between an overworked segment of society and one that is essentially without work. This is no longer a conjunctural question as it, perhaps, had been during the Great Depression, but it has become a structural one.

These brief considerations suggest that a future beyond capitalism would require a fundamental transformation of the division of labor and that, without movement in that direction, increasing numbers of people will be rendered superfluous, susceptible to hunger, disease, and violence. They will increasingly become the objects of militarized control. On thislevel, the current crisis can also be understood as a crisis of labor interwoven in complex ways with a crisis of the natural environment. Against this historical background, the old slogan of “socialism or barbarism” acquires new urgency, even if our understanding of both terms has been fundamentally transformed.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Walking the Talk

Make a difference by bringing a box of plates to the table to step up to and think outside of.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jobs vs. Environment

This graphic from the New York Times shows the results of a survey of people 18-29 years old about which issues they felt were more important. The chart speaks for itself, but, in case you missed it: "Among domestic issues, creating jobs almost always won, while combating climate change almost never did."

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A False Dilemma: Don't Abolish the Knife!

A False Dilemma is a fallacy in which a person uses the following pattern of “reasoning”:
Either claim X is true or claim Y is true (when X and Y could both be false).
Claim Y is false.
Therefore claim X is true.
This line of “reasoning” is fallacious because if both claims could be false, then it cannot be inferred that one is true because the other is false.
"Exactly the reasoning of the celebrated Bill Sykes," wrote Karl Marx:
“Gentlemen of the jury, no doubt the throat of this commercial traveler has been cut. But that is not my fault, it is the fault of the knife. Must we, for such a temporary inconvenience, abolish the use of the knife? Only consider! where would agriculture and trade be without the knife? Is it not as salutary in surgery, as it is knowing in anatomy? And in addition a willing help at the festive board? If you abolish the knife — you hurl us back into the depths of barbarism.”
Which is to say, exactly the reasoning of the mainstream (or bourgeois) economists of Marx's day and ours. "If claim Y is false then claim X must be true!" If the quantity of labor to be performed is not a fixed amount, then -- mirable dictu! -- the economic system must be self-adjusting! Bingo!

But is the economic system self-adjusting? And if the economic system isn't self-adjusting -- as Keynes argued in the BBC radio broadcast linked to in the previous sentence -- is there any alternative to credit-fueled cycles of boom and bust? Again, Marx explained that the function of the economists' false dilemma is to exclude such alternatives from consideration:
No doubt he [the mainstream economist] is far from denying that temporary inconvenience may result from the capitalist use of machinery. But where is the medal without its reverse! Any employment of machinery, except by capital, is to him an impossibility. Exploitation of the workman by the machine is therefore, with him, identical with exploitation of the machine by the workman. Whoever, therefore, exposes the real state of things in the capitalistic employment of machinery, is against its employment in any way, and is an enemy of social progress!