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Thread: BROTM Questions Assumptions

  1. #1
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    Default BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Here's one to start with, from a recent book review thread (apologies to David G):

    Color me skeptical, though, that we can ever deliberately and with intent, step beyond the current model. It's too handy and too familiar. Color me skeptical, also, that doing so would actually cure the core issues. Acton Dictum, faulty regulation of capitalism, Gini coefficient and all that.
    The assumption is that it is the improper regulation of capitalism, rather than the system itself, that is the problem--the "core issue" in his words.

    On the one hand, I wholeheartedly agree that the regulation of capitalism is "faulty" for most people--it is a system well-regulated to distribute almost all benefit to the wealthy few while imposing almost all costs on everyone else. On that front, it is a smashing success. For the wealthy few.

    But, focusing on failures of regulation as the main problem reminds me of an infamous FoxConn/Apple factory's approach to the problem of worker suicides:

    Today, the iPhone is made at a number of different factories around China, but for years, as it became the bestselling product in the world, it was largely assembled at Foxconn’s 1.4 square-mile flagship plant, just outside Shenzhen. The sprawling factory was once home to an estimated 450,000 workers. Today, that number is believed to be smaller, but it remains one of the biggest such operations in the world. If you know of Foxconn, there’s a good chance it’s because you’ve heard of the suicides. In 2010, Longhua assembly-line workers began killing themselves. Worker after worker threw themselves off the towering dorm buildings, sometimes in broad daylight, in tragic displays of desperation – and in protest at the work conditions inside. There were 18 reported suicide attempts that year alone and 14 confirmed deaths. Twenty more workers were talked down by Foxconn officials.
    ...
    The corporate response spurred further unease: Foxconn CEO, Terry Gou, had large nets installed outside many of the buildings to catch falling bodies.
    Source

    Hmm... A solution of a sort. But also a complete failure to recognize that the problem just might be*** a little more systemic than that.

    Discuss. (Need I add: "with civility and intelligence"?)

    Tom

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    I'm not arrogant enough to claim the solution for this problem but I do have an assumption, most tax systems are unequal and could be improved significantly.
    Close the loopholes for the very rich and the companies and let them pay their fair share of taxes, design the rest of the system to distribute the taxes in a fair way across the "Bell curve".
    That could be a fist step to solve the OP problems.

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    As someone who lives in a country that is what many conservative Americans would consider to be one slippery step from communism, I have to say I like it this way. Capitalism is still the driving force of the economy but the benefits are much more evenly shared.
    We're not without our issues, but they do seem small in comparison with some others.

    John Welsford
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    The current issue of the ordure hitting the air mover is our waste water system.
    30 years ago the Tories under Thatcher sold off the infrastructure, creating privately owned monopolies. The official watchdogs appear to be toothless.
    Shadow chancellor of the exchequer John McDonnell MP
    Thirty years ago our water – something we all owned – was sold off. Privatisation has largely enriched private shareholders who have done little to invest in this essential public service.
    When the water companies were sold off, the government took on their historic debts. Since, they have accumulated over £45bn of debt that is ultimately the responsibility of billpayers or governments.
    We were told privatisation could do things more cheaply but water bills rose by 40 per cent in real terms, according to the National Audit Office.
    We were promised that privatisation would unlock more investment but less was invested in 2018 than in 1990.
    We were told that nationalised industries wasted money, but one water boss took home £2 million after venting 4.2 billion litres of sewage into rivers – over which his firm eventually paid £20 million in fines.
    Over a decade, the nine large English companies have paid out as much in dividends as they have made in profits.
    All for providing a service in a “market” in which they don’t compete for customers, when fines for non-compliance with drinking-water quality standards have exceeded £1.5 million over the last five years, and where we lose enough water for 20 million people to leaks every day.
    It’s hardly surprising that support for public ownership of water, at 83 per cent, is higher than for any other utility.
    https://www.ciwem.org/the-environmen...-female-talent

    Two Tories spin it, Labour, and two academics tell it like it is.

    Privatizing the rail network is also flaky.
    The track bed infrastructure had to be taken back into public ownership, and several network operators are also failing.
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    Here's one to start with, from a recent book review thread (apologies to David G):



    The assumption is that it is the improper regulation of capitalism, rather than the system itself, that is the problem--the "core issue" in his words.

    Discuss. (Need I add: "with civility and intelligence"?)

    Tom
    Oh sure... question my hypothesis (it's not an 'assumption')... then disqualify me from commenting by adding that final caveat. <G>
    David G
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    it is a system well-regulated to distribute almost all benefit to the wealthy few while imposing almost all costs on everyone else. On that front, it is a smashing success. For the wealthy few.
    nailed.

    but when one starts with the assumption/religious belief/whatever that capitalism is the worst system - except for all the others..

    it's easy to see why 'all the others' are dismissed out of hand.

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Stolen from Durnik, and in support of the OP's hypothesis --

    David G
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    Oh sure... question my hypothesis (it's not an 'assumption')... then disqualify me from commenting by adding that final caveat. <G>
    I have hopes that you can make the leap.

    Tom
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    Stolen from Durnik, and in support of the OP's hypothesis --

    Hmm... Not sure I agree with Chomsky there. For one thing, I'm thinking of the ronin, or masterless man, in Japanese samurai culture. Being without a master to serve was seen in a very negative light, as far as my extremely limited understanding goes. For another, I think the ancient/medieval world in the West didn't honor "human rights" or "freedom" as Chomsky suggests. The strong mastered the weak. Might makes right. I suspect it would have been very odd indeed for anyone to have protested against the obvious reality of all that. Slaves. Serfs. Peasants. All served masters, and depended on them. And it was a routine part of life.

    Tom
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Lovely sentiments, not well-supported by evidence.

    While I would love to find a better system than well-regulated market capitalism, 'the worst system - except for all the others' that have been tried is, alas, not an 'assumption/religious belief/whatever'; it's a simple fact. The varieties of feudalism/monarchy were OK for the nobility, pretty awful for anyone else. And the recent alternatives - fascism, Marxist communism - produced piles of corpses unsurpassed in human history. (Imperial China might have beat them as a percent of the population, but that's quibbling.) Please, show me a better system that has been tried on a large scale.

    And David, with all respect, the Chomsky quote is utter and complete bullsh!t, a truly horrific case of 'good old days'. From 'classical antiquity' (from the invention of agriculture, actually) up until quite recently, the vast majority of our species were peasants laboring on somone else's land, utterly under the 'will and domination' of the landlord/nobility/aristocracy/ruling class to a degree barely imaginable now, and one bad harvest away from starvation. That's if they weren't actually slaves. We have plenty of problems now. You want to get in the time machine and change places with your ancestors a millennium or two back? Me neither.
    Last edited by Keith Wilson; 03-10-2023 at 11:56 AM.
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    Hmm... Not sure I agree with Chomsky there. For one thing, I'm thinking of the ronin, or masterless man, in Japanese samurai culture. Being without a master to serve was seen in a very negative light, as far as my extremely limited understanding goes. For another, I think the ancient/medieval world in the West didn't honor "human rights" or "freedom" as Chomsky suggests. The strong mastered the weak. Might makes right. I suspect it would have been very odd indeed for anyone to have protested against the obvious reality of all that. Slaves. Serfs. Peasants. All served masters, and depended on them. And it was a routine part of life.

    Tom
    Yes, that's the proven system that his words lead to. We've done it before... for a long time. We know we can at least function in some sort of stable fashion that way. I wouldn't regard it as a desirable 'improvement' on a system of well-regulated capitalism.

    The samurai, and the ronin, were parts of a system of royalty. Are you advocating we return to the days of a monarchy? Or are you aware of some other proven system wherein 'ronin' could exist?
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by Keith Wilson View Post
    Lovely sentiments, not well-supported by evidence.
    Thanks for joining in. I disagree. Just because you believe capitalism is the least bad system ever invented so far does not mean it does not have innate tendencies to create exactly the kind of worker exploitation and wealth imbalance we are seeing today. The evidence is everywhere.

    Quote Originally Posted by Keith Wilson View Post
    While I would love to find a better system than well-regulated market capitalism, 'the worst system - except for all the others' that have been tried is, alas, not an 'assumption/religious belief/whatever'; it's a simple fact. The varieties of feudalism/monarchy were OK for the nobility, pretty awful for anyone else. And the recent alternatives - fascism, Marxist communism - produced piles of corpses unsurpassed in human history. (Imperial China might have beat them as a percent of the population, but that's quibbling.) Please, show me a better system that has been tried on a large scale.


    Again, your belief that capitalism is the best thing possible has nothing to do with its obvious flaws.

    And, everything that we do today was impossible. Right up until someone did it. The same holds true for finding an alternative to capitalism.

    But here we are in perfect agreement:

    Quote Originally Posted by Keith Wilson View Post
    And David, with all respect, the Chomsky quote is utter and complete bullsh!t, a truly horrific case of 'good old days'. From 'classical antiquity' (from the invention of agriculture, actually) up until quite recently, the vast majority of our species were peasants laboring on somone else's land and utterly under the 'will and domination of the landlord/nobility/aristocracy/ruling class to a degree barely imaginable now, and one bad harvest away form starvation. That's if they weren't actually slaves. We have plenty of problems now. You want to get in the time machine and change places with your ancestors a millennium or two back? Me neither.
    Tom
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    Yes, that's the proven system that his words lead to. We've done it before... for a long time. We know we can at least function in some sort of stable fashion that way. I wouldn't regard it as a desirable 'improvement' on a system of well-regulated capitalism.

    The samurai, and the ronin, were parts of a system of royalty. Are you advocating we return to the days of a monarchy? Or are you aware of some other proven system wherein 'ronin' could exist?
    I'm saying what Keith said, only with civility as well as intelligence. Chomsky is dead wrong about his claims there.

    The kind of economic slavery he it talking about absolutely exist in the modern capitalist world. But the idea that ancient cultures were some kind of golden age of freedom-honoring utopia is nonsense. Chomsky is usually a lot smarter than that. Did he really say that, or is it a false meme?

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    Again, your belief that capitalism is the best thing possible has nothing to do with its obvious flaws.
    But I do NOT believe that. Again, I was comparing it to the alternatives that have actually been tried on any scale much larger than a village, most of which have been utter disasters. Capitalism does indeed have a tendency toward concentration of wealth and power that constantly has to be countered, and I sincerely hope we can either regulate it better or find a better arrangement. We haven't yet.
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    I'm saying what Keith said, only with civility as well as intelligence. Chomsky is dead wrong about his claims there.

    The kind of economic slavery he it talking about absolutely exist in the modern capitalist world. But the idea that ancient cultures were some kind of golden age of freedom-honoring utopia is nonsense. Chomsky is usually a lot smarter than that. Did he really say that, or is it a false meme?

    Tom
    I realize the assumption is that only europe and asia had cultures worthy of merit.. but.....

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Again, your belief that capitalism is the best thing possible has nothing to do with its obvious flaws.
    Quote Originally Posted by Keith Wilson View Post
    But I do NOT believe that.
    Well, I honestly can't see how what you posted doesn't strongly imply a belief that an alternative to capitalism is extremely unlikely to be possible. Think about it. This:

    While I would
    love to find a better system than well-regulated market capitalism, 'the worst system - except for all the others' that have been tried is, alas, not an 'assumption/religious belief/whatever'; it's a simple fact.
    Doesn't sound like you're treating the idea of alternatives to capitalism dismissively? Or if not dismissively, treating the idea as virtually proven--through a long history of failed attempts (failed according to you, but arguable of course)--to be impossible?

    That is certainly the impression I get from your posts on the subject, but of course I may have misunderstood you.

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by Durnik View Post
    I realize the assumption is that only europe and asia had cultures worthy of merit.. but.....
    It's Chomsky's assumption, not mine. He is specifically talking about "classical antiquity"--Greece, Rome, etc.

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by Durnik View Post
    I realize the assumption is that only Europe and Asia had cultures worthy of merit.. but.....
    Not at all. I'm at least a bit familiar with the pre-conquest cultures of Central and South America, and believe me, they weren't any better. Pre-agricultural societies tend to be a lot more egalitarian, but once folks figure out about growing crops you almost inevitably get a ruling nobility that controls the land, and a peasant class that works it. True in India, most of Southeast Asia, the Middle East . . . Africa I don't really know enough about to say anything useful, but it's a huge and very diverse place. But the Chomsky quote is simply wrong.
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Is it ethical for an individual to own property? I don’t know, but doing so can motivate you to work hard for yourself and your family, as opposed to working the overlord’s land for a pittance. Supposedly the idea of personal ownership of land was completely foreign to most of the American Indian tribes, although some tribes may have fought others over access to hunting grounds, etc. I have read that one of the prime motivations for immigration to America was the idea of being able to actually own some land, something that was unobtainable to most in Europe.

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by Ralphie Boy View Post
    Is it ethical for an individual to own property? I don’t know, but doing so can motivate you to work hard for yourself and your family, as opposed to working the overlord’s land for a pittance. Supposedly the idea of personal ownership of land was completely foreign to most of the American Indian tribes,
    North American. The Inca Empire owned land with a vengeance.
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    ^ I have noted your joy? at referencing the Inca as 'typical' N.A.?

    yet, north of them in what is now the u.s. and canada, culture was quite different.


    back to wage slavery being the norm.. 200 years ago here where I live on the western downslope of the Appalachians, the norm was farmers, merchants, store keepers, tradesfolk of all sorts. apprentices/helpers were typically family. the idea that one had to work for another to simply live was non-existent. one can argue 'things are better now'.. some will disagree.. but the norm, as when natives americans I ref'd above were dominant, was not wage slavery.

    it is now - short of being born wealthy - a requirement.

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    From FB... L.G. Witt, and too good not to share --

    There seems to be a misconception that anyone discussing participation in a two-party system supports that system.

    This is not the case. Speaking only for myself, I hate the two-party system. I want things like ranked choice voting, more options than R and D, etc. I despise the way things are, and I want us to move toward something better.

    But two things are true that are beyond my control:

    1. The two-party system is what we have to work with *right now*, and that wonít change before the next election.

    2. While both parties suck, one is demonstrably more authoritarian and pushing hard for minority rule, voter suppression, and virtually every hallmark of fascism.

    Acknowledging that those things are our current reality is not the same as supporting them or wanting them to continue. We desperately need a different system and better parties, but as it stands now, we donít have either. And weíre not going to get a better system ó or a better anything ó if we let fascism take hold just because we donít want to participate in whatís currently available to us.

    Yeah, it would be great if we had viable third party candidates for the White House, Congress, etc. Yes, it would be fantastic if we weren't also fighting against things like voter suppression and other authoritarian means of seizing power. And yes, I want us to work toward a better system.

    But this is the system we have *right now*, and pretending that isn't the case doesn't accomplish anything. Discussing the system as it exists right now does not mean we support it or think it's ideal.

    It's like being on a construction site and working with the tools you have, even though you can absolutely conceive of a better tool.

    While you work toward designing and figuring out how to implement the better tool, you still have to get the job done, an that means working with what you have RIGHT NOW.

    It doesn't mean you have to LIKE the tool you're stuck with now, but you either USE IT, or you let someone else build the house.

    And quite frankly, I don't want to live in the house that "someone else" is trying to build.
    David G
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    It doesn't mean you have to LIKE the tool you're stuck with now, but you either USE IT, or you let someone else build the house. And quite frankly, I don't want to live in the house that "someone else" is trying to build.
    Exactly!!

    Quote Originally Posted by Durnik View Post
    200 years ago here where I live on the western downslope of the Appalachians, the norm was farmers, merchants, store keepers, tradesfolk of all sorts.
    Sure. And historically, for most of the planet since the invention of agriculture, that was a rare anomaly. That part of Tennessee 200 years ago was sparsely-settled recently conquered territory, the previous occupants killed or driven off, with plenty of unoccupied land for those willing to clear and work it. Unlike most places, there was no hereditary landowning aristocracy, no landlords or peasants. That's highly unusual. And 'wage slavery' is a propaganda term; sometimes very accurately describing working for wages, more often not, these days.
    Last edited by Keith Wilson; 03-11-2023 at 12:59 PM.
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    My bad. Clearly I presented that Chomsky quote poorly. I wasn't offering it as 'wisdom' I agreed with. I was saying it was someone who agreed with WI-Tom.

    And it does support his position, even though, taken free of attachment, even WI-Tom recognizes the fallacy. Which I find both ironic and telling.

    This is an interesting topic. And one I find highly relevant. Like Keith, I'd love to find the next improvement/evolution of our socio-economic system. I invested a LOT of hours in grad school investigating possibilities. My conclusion: see Post #75. In short - we need to implement policies to better regulate our existing system so as to: reverse both the Acton Dictum and the rising Gini coefficient. I am please to see that Biden seems to be largely moving in that direction.

    My own formative years were spent watching my father, inspired by a wandering group of Scandanavian socialists, help grow a system of West Coast plywood mills that were worker-owned and worker managed co-ops. My own first shop was started that way. Later, I taught classes and offered consulting for firms who were setting up that way. And I hired on as the first general manager for a successful firm that wanted to make the transition from Sole Proprietor to Co-op. And that approach was my first thought during grad school. Sadly, I concluded that a quantum leap of human psychology/evolution would be required before such a system could supplant our 'best except for all the others' present system of regulated capitalism combined with democratic elections.

    My prescription for now... elect people who want effective regulation of our economy, and protect that 'democratic elections' component. Both of those are under attack. The former is why we are in such a state at present. The latter is their next big push... and will only serve to make it all worse. If we don't manage those two... then I reckon we're headed for a New Feudalism.

    So, again I ask any and all -- what system would YOU propose as a potential next step? Because... complaining about the situation - without offering any thoughts on how to improve it - soon becomes mere whining.
    David G
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    My bad. Clearly I presented that Chomsky quote poorly.
    No, not poorly; you just presented it without comment. I find the fact that Tom didn't like it any more than I did quite encouraging. We all really do agree more than we realize, even though we have the left's characteristic bitter arguments over small differences.
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    My bad. Clearly I presented that Chomsky quote poorly. I wasn't offering it as 'wisdom' I agreed with. I was saying it was someone who agreed with WI-Tom.
    You are saying Chomsky agreed with me--agreed with me about what? Because I certainly don't agree with the quotation you posted. I'm not sure why you'd think I did.

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    And it does support his position, even though, taken free of attachment, even WI-Tom recognizes the fallacy.
    It doesn't support my position at all. Chomsky is claiming that there were universal economic systems that were better than capitalism, with more freedom and less slavery, from classical antiquity onward. That's absurd. At a small scale, in pre-agricultural times or societies, that kind of freedom probably existed. In fact, I think small scale is one of the things that makes alternatives to capitalism easier to conceive and execute. Much harder in a world of globalization.

    My "position" is mainly to question things, which I see as having great value even when answers don't immediately present themselves. But here's a few thoughts of mine:

    1. Capitalism is by its inherent qualities a system for concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the few, diverting most benefits to the wealthy few and imposing as many costs on the non-wealthy majority as possible. It also promotes increased consumption, inventing new "needs" so it can open new markets. And some of those externalized costs--the environmental ones--have become an existential threat to human civilization. I don't think anyone can reasonably disagree with this, though I'm sure some will try.

    2. There really is no such thing as "unregulated" capitalism. It's either regulated in favor of the wealthy (as it is now), or in favor of equity and fairness for the majority (which has sometimes been done much better than it is now, but has never been perfect). I also think that trying to move regulation toward the equitable side of things is very important, and can offer huge improvements without abandoning capitalism. But, I also think that reforming regulation is treating the symptoms. Treating symptoms is important, and has real value. But I'd much rather deal with the root cause (e.g. I can use ice and anti-inflammatories for a running injury, and it will help--but it would be far better to fix the underlying biomechanical issues that caused the problem). Capitalism has serious biomechanical problems that no amount of regulation will cure. The problems will remain even when the symptoms are masked.

    3. Better alternatives than capitalism can, in theory at least, be found and effectively implemented. And we ought to try, because the problems of capitalism are serious enough that staying with it is not a winning game. I see the role of cooperatives quite differently than David G--I think, done correctly, they are inherently anti-capitalist. He'll probably disagree. That's OK. We can keep thinking our own way about that.

    4. Better alternatives may have already been proposed, and (because of interventions from those opposing them--e.g. the U.S.) have not received a fair trial yet. On the other hand, perhaps they would fail even under ideal circumstances without outside interference. So perhaps it's true that capitalism is the best system yet devised. (Which still doesn't mean a better one can't be found).

    5. The assumption that any form of socialism or communism will inevitably devolve into Stalinism is just that--an assumption. That's just like believing that the Wright brothers would never achieve powered flight because every attempt to do so before them failed.

    Now this:

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    Because... complaining about the situation - without offering any thoughts on how to improve it - soon becomes mere whining.
    You've misunderstood. Questioning assumptions and reflecting on consequences is not complaining, even when no solutions are presented. On the contrary, questioning beliefs and values is a crucial step toward improving things.

    But, you want thoughts. Here's one from Aldo Leopold:

    "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

    Here's one from Wendell Berry:

    "The ideal of competition always implies, and in fact requires, that any community must be divided into a class of winners and a class of losers. The losers simply accumulate in human dumps. The idea that the displaced and dispossessed “should seek retraining and get into another line of work” is, of course, utterly cynical. There is no limit to the damage and the suffering implicit in this willingness that losers should exist as a normal economic cost.

    The danger of the ideal of competition is that it neither proposes nor implies any limits. It proposes simply to lower costs at any cost, and to raise profits at any cost. It does not hesitate at the destruction of the life of a family or the life of a community. It pits neighbor against neighbor as readily as it pits buyer against seller. Every transaction is meant to involve a winner and a loser. And for this reason the human economy is pitted without limit against nature."

    Now Keith:

    Quote Originally Posted by Keith Wilson View Post
    No, not poorly; you just presented it without comment. I find the fact that Tom didn't like it any more than I did quite encouraging. We all really do agree more than we realize, even though we have the left's characteristic bitter arguments over small differences.
    You seem surprised that I didn't agree with that quotation. I find that odd. I may agree with Chomsky on lots of things--he's a very smart guy, very insightful--but that one was pure nonsense. I've never made that claim, or anything like it.

    I agree that we agree more than disagree. My understanding of our differences is that you are more optimistic than I think is warranted by reality, and you think the opposite. I think, too, that I tend to explore things at a hypothetical, visionary, theoretical level to arrive at first principles. And I think you are more focused on immediate practical aspects, such as "How do we get from capitalism to something better, if indeed something better can be found?" (I think you're skeptical that it can be).

    I think the world needs both kinds of thinking. The danger I see is that, by focusing only on the immediately practical, we risk abandoning the open exploration of alternatives that are desperately needed.

    I appreciate that we can disagree and discuss without insulting each other!

    Tom
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    On the one hand, I wholeheartedly agree that the regulation of capitalism is "faulty" for most people--it is a system well-regulated to distribute almost all benefit to the wealthy few while imposing almost all costs on everyone else. On that front, it is a smashing success. For the wealthy few.
    I think you get the cause of economic inequality wrong.

    It should be easy to see that individuals are willing to pay a few hundred dollars - perhaps for software, to increase their productivity by several thousands of dollars. If thousands of individuals do that the thousands each of them profit by is dwarfed by the millions that the software producer profits by.

    Alternatively, it should be easy to see that those who are frugal and save become wealthier than their economic peers who are not frugal and spend.

    Those are economic truths regardless of how you define "the wealthy few".

    Considering that a household income of $30-40K in the US places that household at about the 80th percentile in the world, Most in the US benefit from the current policies. Perhaps not as much as you believe you are entitled to.
    Life is complex.

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    Stolen from Durnik, and in support of the OP's hypothesis --



    I too doubt he said that. I can''t find it with Google.
    My grandparents were alive in the late 19th C. they could not choose to not work.

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    You are saying Chomsky agreed with me--agreed with me about what? Because I certainly don't agree with the quotation you posted. I'm not sure why you'd think I did.



    It doesn't support my position at all. Chomsky is claiming that there were universal economic systems that were better than capitalism, with more freedom and less slavery, from classical antiquity onward. That's absurd. At a small scale, in pre-agricultural times or societies, that kind of freedom probably existed. In fact, I think small scale is one of the things that makes alternatives to capitalism easier to conceive and execute. Much harder in a world of globalization.

    My "position" is mainly to question things, which I see as having great value even when answers don't immediately present themselves. But here's a few thoughts of mine:

    1. Capitalism is by its inherent qualities a system for concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the few, diverting most benefits to the wealthy few and imposing as many costs on the non-wealthy majority as possible. It also promotes increased consumption, inventing new "needs" so it can open new markets. And some of those externalized costs--the environmental ones--have become an existential threat to human civilization. I don't think anyone can reasonably disagree with this, though I'm sure some will try.

    2. There really is no such thing as "unregulated" capitalism. It's either regulated in favor of the wealthy (as it is now), or in favor of equity and fairness for the majority (which has sometimes been done much better than it is now, but has never been perfect). I also think that trying to move regulation toward the equitable side of things is very important, and can offer huge improvements without abandoning capitalism. But, I also think that reforming regulation is treating the symptoms. Treating symptoms is important, and has real value. But I'd much rather deal with the root cause (e.g. I can use ice and anti-inflammatories for a running injury, and it will help--but it would be far better to fix the underlying biomechanical issues that caused the problem). Capitalism has serious biomechanical problems that no amount of regulation will cure. The problems will remain even when the symptoms are masked.

    3. Better alternatives than capitalism can, in theory at least, be found and effectively implemented. And we ought to try, because the problems of capitalism are serious enough that staying with it is not a winning game. I see the role of cooperatives quite differently than David G--I think, done correctly, they are inherently anti-capitalist. He'll probably disagree. That's OK. We can keep thinking our own way about that.

    4. Better alternatives may have already been proposed, and (because of interventions from those opposing them--e.g. the U.S.) have not received a fair trial yet. On the other hand, perhaps they would fail even under ideal circumstances without outside interference. So perhaps it's true that capitalism is the best system yet devised. (Which still doesn't mean a better one can't be found).

    5. The assumption that any form of socialism or communism will inevitably devolve into Stalinism is just that--an assumption. That's just like believing that the Wright brothers would never achieve powered flight because every attempt to do so before them failed.

    Now this:



    You've misunderstood. Questioning assumptions and reflecting on consequences is not complaining, even when no solutions are presented. On the contrary, questioning beliefs and values is a crucial step toward improving things.

    But, you want thoughts. Here's one from Aldo Leopold:

    "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

    Here's one from Wendell Berry:

    "The ideal of competition always implies, and in fact requires, that any community must be divided into a class of winners and a class of losers. The losers simply accumulate in human dumps. The idea that the displaced and dispossessed “should seek retraining and get into another line of work” is, of course, utterly cynical. There is no limit to the damage and the suffering implicit in this willingness that losers should exist as a normal economic cost.

    The danger of the ideal of competition is that it neither proposes nor implies any limits. It proposes simply to lower costs at any cost, and to raise profits at any cost. It does not hesitate at the destruction of the life of a family or the life of a community. It pits neighbor against neighbor as readily as it pits buyer against seller. Every transaction is meant to involve a winner and a loser. And for this reason the human economy is pitted without limit against nature."

    Now Keith:



    You seem surprised that I didn't agree with that quotation. I find that odd. I may agree with Chomsky on lots of things--he's a very smart guy, very insightful--but that one was pure nonsense. I've never made that claim, or anything like it.

    I agree that we agree more than disagree. My understanding of our differences is that you are more optimistic than I think is warranted by reality, and you think the opposite. I think, too, that I tend to explore things at a hypothetical, visionary, theoretical level to arrive at first principles. And I think you are more focused on immediate practical aspects, such as "How do we get from capitalism to something better, if indeed something better can be found?" (I think you're skeptical that it can be).

    I think the world needs both kinds of thinking. The danger I see is that, by focusing only on the immediately practical, we risk abandoning the open exploration of alternatives that are desperately needed.

    I appreciate that we can disagree and discuss without insulting each other!

    Tom
    BOLD 1 -- Our main disagreement is whether a better alternative exists. The quote (real or not) agrees with you that there is one.

    BOLD 2 - You are once again misrepresenting what I'm saying. Seems like an ongoing problem.

    I never said that critiques or complaints are unhelpful. Evaluation & Diagnosis are absolutely critical first steps. What I've said though is that stopping there IS unhelpful. If done repeatedly, it is more than that. Whining, as I mentioned. Dilletante's are, at best, annoying. But worse... it's discouraging. It is a contributor to the hopelessness and nihilism that the oligarchs dream of. Carrying water for those who would subject us to a world FAR from any humane vision of how humans shouild relate.
    David G
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    You seem surprised that I didn't agree with that quotation. I find that odd. I may agree with Chomsky on lots of things--he's a very smart guy, very insightful--but that one was pure nonsense.
    Not surprised, really. Pleased, yes.

    I would not be at all surprised if it were a bogus quote, actually. I can't find it with Google either, not even something close. I disagree with Chomsky about a fair number of things, but he's very far from foolish, and that quote is pretty silly. Anybody know the source?

    And yes, you're right that I prefer to tinker, and have a lot of distrust of visionary projects to remake society starting from first principles. Their historical record is, with few exceptions, pretty awful. But don;t let me stop you; maybe you'll find something that really does work better.
    "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations,
    for nature cannot be fooled."

    Richard Feynman

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    BOLD 1 -- Our main disagreement is whether a better alternative exists. The quote (real or not) agrees with you that there is one.
    Nope, I don't agree with that assessment, quite. To me that sounds like you are saying that I believe a better system exists, and you believe that it does not.

    But what I actually believe is that it is distinctly possible that a better system can be created, if we try. But, maybe not. I think that it's likelier that a better system can be created, but that we are so deeply entrenched in the current system that it's going to be very very difficult to see what it is, and how to implement it. Which is why questioning this first system and pointing out its flaws--which by now have come to seem like "normal" or "the way things must and always will be, since we've been living under it for so long--is such a crucial step.

    What the Chomsky quotation asserts is that there was a Golden Age in the past in which a better system existed universally, a system of freedom for all and no servitude, and that all we need to do is return to it. That's just not at all what I believe. Nor does it support what I believe.

    What I believe is something much closer to the vision of thinkers like Aldo Leopold, who argues for a shift in values to create a land ethic that honors the essential role of every part of the entire biosphere, and sees humanity as part of that biosphere rather than as a separate "superior" force which is entitled to exploit all the other parts, keeping only what serves a shallow economic purpose. I think that shift must underlie any effective alternatives to capitalism, which most certainly is in opposition to any kind of land ethic.

    Now this:

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    BOLD 2 - You are once again misrepresenting what I'm saying. Seems like an ongoing problem.
    Well, it seems like that to you. I plead no special immunity to misunderstanding people. I'm sure that I do, sometimes. And so I appreciate it when people react by clarifying their position as you've done here, rather than accusing me of dishonesty--thanks for that.

    But it goes both ways, eh? I've had to clarify my position as well, because you've clearly misunderstood me too. Which also seems like an ongoing problem. In fact, it is an ongoing problem. For all of humanity. That's why communication classes teach the value of paraphrasing as a check on understanding the positions of others, and as a way of providing opportunities for clarification on both sides.

    And here:

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    I never said that critiques or complaints are unhelpful. Evaluation & Diagnosis are absolutely critical first steps. What I've said though is that stopping there IS unhelpful. If done repeatedly, it is more than that. Whining, as I mentioned. Dilletante's are, at best, annoying. But worse... it's discouraging. It is a contributor to the hopelessness and nihilism that the oligarchs dream of. Carrying water for those who would subject us to a world FAR from any humane vision of how humans shouild relate.
    First, I never said that you said critiques are unhelpful. I'm happy to see you clarify that you agree with me that they are essential. My disagreement is with your choice to label my posts as "complaints" and "whining." I don't think that's warranted. If I had to guess, I think such interpretations are manifestations of your annoyance at reading thoughts from people you consider less knowledgeable on the topic than you consider yourself to be.

    Bolded bit: I completely disagree. Also completely disagree about hopelessness and nihilism--I'd argue that those who view capitalism as our settled and inevitable reality--which is my understanding of your stance, but I may be wrong--are the ones who have given up to hopelessness and nihilism. And they are the ones carrying water for oligarchs.

    I suspect we're not going to agree. You'll probably keep being annoyed by my posts. And yet, no one forced you to open this thread.

    Tom
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-11-2023 at 11:15 PM.
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by Too Little Time View Post
    I think you get the cause of economic inequality wrong.
    I think you assume, incorrectly, that I believe anything so simplistic as the idea that there is "a" cause for inequality. There are many causes. My point is that capitalism is inherently geared toward increasing inequality by concentrating wealth.

    Quote Originally Posted by Too Little Time View Post
    It should be easy to see that individuals are willing to pay a few hundred dollars - perhaps for software, to increase their productivity by several thousands of dollars. If thousands of individuals do that the thousands each of them profit by is dwarfed by the millions that the software producer profits by.
    In other words, you think I am correct to say that capitalism inevitably tends to concentrate wealth.

    Quote Originally Posted by Too Little Time View Post
    Alternatively, it should be easy to see that those who are frugal and save become wealthier than their economic peers who are not frugal and spend.
    So what? Given equal starting points, people who save more and spend less become wealthier. Seems like a truism that doesn't do much for anyone's argument. And also, your persistently erroneous belief that differences in wealth can be explained by personal choices at the individual level is showing.

    Now this:

    Quote Originally Posted by Too Little Time View Post
    Considering that a household income of $30-40K in the US places that household at about the 80th percentile in the world, Most in the US benefit from the current policies. Perhaps not as much as you believe you are entitled to.
    No one benefits from the rapid large-scale destruction of the biosphere that industrial capitalism leads to. And only a few benefit from the extreme concentration of wealth. And, any consideration of income must be compared with living expenses to be meaningful.

    I would indeed be wealthy in Wrocław if my salary were equal to what I'd make teaching in the U.S. The typical wage income here is around $22,200 annually. I make around $30,000. That's pretty darn close to half of what I'd be paid in the U.S. But, prices here are low enough that my standard of living has, if anything, increased.

    Tom
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    I think you assume, incorrectly, that I believe anything so simplistic as the idea that there is "a" cause for inequality. There are many causes. My point is that capitalism is inherently geared toward increasing inequality by concentrating wealth.
    I quoted your comment about regulation. Or the lack of. Being a success for the wealthy. I see that that as your "cause" for inequality. You may have more than one cause. That may not be your primary cause.

    Anyone with opportunity and the ability to make choices can get wealthy. Capitalism as well as almost any other economic system makes some group wealthy. Typically that is the ruling class and their friends. Capitalism may spread the wealth a bit more, but that is a point will not defend.

    Rather than using income, I could have used PPP to make my point, but there are issues with that also.

    Regardless, my point was that regulation is not stopping most people in the US from being wealthy.
    Life is complex.

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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    Quote Originally Posted by Too Little Time View Post
    I quoted your comment about regulation. Or the lack of. Being a success for the wealthy. I see that that as your "cause" for inequality. You may have more than one cause. That may not be your primary cause.

    Anyone with opportunity and the ability to make choices can get wealthy. Capitalism as well as almost any other economic system makes some group wealthy. Typically that is the ruling class and their friends. Capitalism may spread the wealth a bit more, but that is a point will not defend.

    Rather than using income, I could have used PPP to make my point, but there are issues with that also.

    Regardless, my point was that regulation is not stopping most people in the US from being wealthy.
    Well, I disagree completely about that. And about your belief that personal choices and individual frugality are the primary path to wealth (which is how I understand your position; I may have misunderstood you, but it seems consistent with what you've posted repeatedly in the past).

    Tom
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    Default Re: BROTM Questions Assumptions

    "Can't solve a problem? Well, get down and investigate the present facts and its past history! When you have investigated the problem thoroughly, you will know how to solve it. Conclusions invariably come after investigation, and not before. Only a blockhead cudgels his brains on his own... to 'find a solution' or 'evolve an idea' without making that effort. It must be stressed that this cannot possibly lead to any effective solution or any good idea." -- Chairman Mao Zedong.


    Tom - go ahead and do the investigation. Until then, your word games are nothing more than a Dilletante's Dance of Deconstruction... and a waste of time for those of us who have already done some of that investigation thing.

    You say there are theoretical possibilities for a better system. I say name them. Or outline your thinking. Because I've already made mention of the prescriptions I see as relevant and urgent, and which have worked in the past. But you only want to dismiss them as not fundamental enough. And to quibble about small matters that may or may not be true... but which don't actually matter. Meantime, Rome is alight.
    Last edited by David G; 03-12-2023 at 07:24 PM.
    David G
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