Disturbia

There are several very disturbing things about the recent run of British politics. The most obvious one is how well our home-grown far right lunatic fringe did in the recent elections. The BNP got enough of the vote that they get to have two MEPs now. The UKIP, a party whose platform is “We don’t like the French, or the Germans, so there” still have more Members in the European Parliament than the Liberal Democrats do. Surely there is something deeply flawed in a political system which allows a party whose main policy is to do away with the European Union more representation at the EU level than a party whose policies are dominated by the need to, you know, actually survive as an economically viable nation-state?

The island nature of Great Britain has been culturally and politically definitive for a very, very long time. It is significant, in that good farmland and a bloody huge coastline made us a major raiding target for the Scands, Germans and Irish for about a thousand years. It is significant, in that our self-image as a nation has been founded in part on sea-power for over a thousand years, and most recently was virtually defined by it. We were never the big problem for the Great Powers, until we got organised as a naval power: and then were able to hold ourselves culturally apart when the Enlightenment set Europe on the course towards quasi-federalism. It is also hugely significant in that it gave us the opportunity to industrialise before anyone else could.

Unfortunately, that was all then and this is now. All of the things that made us first to industrialise are now making us the first to fall off the edge. We started running out of things to dig up a long time before the eventual, politicised death of the mining industry under Thatcher. We don’t have great forests now, just a few woods surrounded by No Trespassing signs. We haven’t been able to feed ourselves, let along satisfy the rest of our domestic consumption requirements, for several decades. We are, in fact, completely dependent on external good will, now that we don’t have an empire. The illusion of distinctness from Europe created by our geography is becoming more and more threadbare every year. We’ve had over a millennium since King Cnut set us the example, but the dominant role of our island nature in defining our self-image is so deeply encoded, even after all those centuries, that we would rather shout at the waves than learn to build boats.

However, comma.

I still don’t think that’s the biggest worry, though. We’ll either get properly engaged in Europe or we won’t. If we do, we might have a chance at playing Hong Kong to the EU’s China. If we don’t join them, then they will beat us in the long run. Those things are going to happen whatever the UKIP says about it; but there’s something else rotten in the heart of Westminster and it’s got damn all to do with Europe.

One of the great guns levelled at those who support Proportional Representation is that it sponsors small, weak, extremist parties into positions of legitimisation. Rather like FPTP then, which has just elected more BNP members than the PR system did. Our parliamentary system evolved rather than being planned, and we regularly make constitutional choices on the Topol principle, but we also have a good record of reform without revolution. Unfortunately, that record got a little too good when Tony Blair was able to tilt our check-and-balance system in favour of the executive.

We have been saved, time and again, over the lifespan of modern parliamentary democracy by the fact that the Upper House and the Lower House are distinct in kind as well as station. Elected politicians are populists, and short-termists; the Lords, historically, avoided both problems. Once the Commons gained the practical power to legislate, this actually became a good thing ; it meant that popular, bloody stupid ideas could be stopped (as could governmentally-sponsored, un-popular, bloody stupid ideas). When they changed the rules and gave the Prime Minister of the day the power to stack the lords for his own immediate advantage rather than merely the eventual benefit of his faction, I predicted that we would at some point see a Prime Minister hand out peerages as a specific move to get unelectable arseholes into the government. All my friends told me I was nuts; the rest of Parliament wouldn’t allow it.

To make a hollow laughing. This man was adequately satirised by Douglas Adams 20 years ago [1]; and now we’ve not only made him a Lord, we’ve put him in the cabinet? We currently have the least democratic administration in the last century: 7 of the ministers are unelected. Gordon Brown wanted a crony in place, and he was able to make that man a peer of the realm, on his own recognisance, in order to stack the benches. Surely we outgrew this kind of constitutional corruption decades ago?

Apparently we did not. Yes, it is scandalous that the endemic greed of Westminster and the stupidity of New Labour managed to get the British National Party elected to Europe. No, that is not going to make a serious difference to my life over the next four years, but Sir Alan Lord Sugar can and will. A man who made bad computers [2] and worse friends, a man whose existence as a public figure comes through a self-promoting television vanity project, a man proudly hip-deep in the financial culture which brought down the economy, a man who no-one ever elected, is now a peer of the realm and in the cabinet. Talk about setting a thief to encourage thieves. [3]


[1] The choices are limited as to who Douglas Adams was sending up when he created Gordon Way, and they’re basically limited to Sir Clive Sinclair and Alan Sugar. I leave it to the reader to determine which they think is more likely.
[2] Yes, some of my rancor in this post comes from being a person who was studying computer science A-level but couldn’t afford a real computer, and thus owned several freely donated Amstrads. Then I figured out why people kept giving them away.
[3] In case Lord Sugar’s lawyers are interested: “Set a thief to catch a thief” is the only rationale I have ever been able to see behind allowing financiers to regulate the financial industry. It in no way means to imply that Lord Sugar has personally had his hand in the till.

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33 Comments

Filed under Content, Signal

33 responses to “Disturbia

  1. siuilaruin

    Great Post. I don’t know why anyone thinks that entertainment shows are a reflection of what the people want. What next, Susan Boyle as culture minister? Boris Johnson as Mayor of London? oh, wait…
    I want the best person for the job, not the guy off the telly! Why is that now an odd idea?

    • johnqpublican

      Thank you. I guess one might argue that punditry is the new version of a career at Horseguards when it comes to positioning yourself for appointed office. While I take your point about media generated celebrity, Glenda Jackson MP (among others) stands as a counter-example. She also stood for election to get her voice in government, and did so several times.

      The problem I see with Lord Sugar is not that he’s a television self-publicist. The problem is that he’s a marketroid, a barrer-boy, a scoundre: living proof that you don’t need to be competent to make millions. He made computers with a 3″ disc drive. He made the only ones.

      The problem I see with Lord Sugar is that he has been given a life-long voice and the direct power of a legislative vote in the administration of my country because Gordon Brown wanted to put an unelected man into the cabinet today. He was directly promoted to a permanent position without oversight, scrutiny, or mandate.

  2. Mark

    Hi… with respect to the previous conversation.

    You really think that trillions of dollars are “disappearing into offshore bank accounts”? How does this work? Come on now – you can`t accuse me of not using facts and figures in my argument and come back with this, can you?
    Facts please, sir.

    “Based on what you’re pushing here, the ultimate goal of any economy is to have a 100% finance-based economy. Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

    Uh… no, of course not and of course that`s not what i`m advocating. What I`m saying is that services have a value and that it is bizarre to only consider work which produces something mechanical to be of value.

    I also thought I made the point that even if we are only considering industrial production, the western countries *do* produce a great deal. Were you aware that the US, Germany, Japan and the UK combined produce almost a third of all that is produced in the world (by value)?

    And, you may well decide that the *intrinsic value* of a cucumber is greater than that of a i-pod – but if you decide on this basis that the Japanese must be involved in jiggery-pokery to be able to import food, you are wrong . Basically – having a conversation about the intrinsic value of a cucumber vs. an ipod is pointless. What we should be interested in is how much people themselves value certain items and that is what is expressed by the price system.
    At the moment what you seem to be saying is that since you don`t consider the things which are produced in the West (medicine, chemicals, jets, clever dicks) to be as intrinsically valuable as things, such as turnips and goats, which are produced with wild abandon in the poorer countries, any evidence produced (using figures such as GDP) should be discounted as worthless. Is there any alternative statistical method you`d like to suggest to test your ideas, or are we just supposed to take you word for it?

    Secondly, regarding your arguments about capital begetting capital. Given that we operate under a system of fiat currency, our currency only has value with respect to the work that takes place in this country and the things which foreigners believe they will be able to buy with it.
    The answer simply can`t be as simple as “the west started off with all the money and they used that to buy everything and get richer still” for two reasons – firstly, because if we did nothing our currency would have no value and we would be unable to use it and secondly, because the most important form of capital (human) is not for sale.

    That`s what my question about centralisation was about – increased political and personal freedom is also economic decentralisation as people gain ownership and control of their own human capital.
    If money is being administered by a central body to the benefit of all, does this count as a centralisation of wealth?
    How could such centralised power lead to a progressive centralisation of wealth – if the wealth was being used for all?

    • johnqpublican

      You really think that trillions of dollars are “disappearing into offshore bank accounts”? How does this work? Come on now – you can`t accuse me of not using facts and figures in my argument and come back with this, can you?
      Facts please, sir.

      Firstly; I didn’t accuse you of not using facts and figures, I accused you of arguing from an ideological basis rather than an evidentiary one. At that time, we were discussing the functional versus philosophical definitions of capital. Evidence, in that context, does not simply boil down to facts and figures; it also includes civilisation development models, archaeology, historical analysis, and so on and further. You were out of your field and into mine; as I am in yours when you argue with me about Krugman. I did get a little heated with you over wasting my time, and I offered you an apology for it after you did start trying to debate rather than just saying “but capitalism is good, mmmkay?”. And all of this happened six weeks ago. It’s nice and dry under your bridge, you know.

      Returning to the immediate strawman: what I said is that the taxman thinks that’s what’s happening. What I can go further to say is that every time you hear about a corrupt third-world leader or a corrupt first-world banker putting bribe money or aid money or the proceeds from a Ponzi scam into their own pocket, this is what is happening.

      Of course I can’t tell you how much, or where, or when; if I or anyone else could, then there wouldn’t be a fucking huge taxation shortfall due to tax avoidance and evasion. Ask the G20 or the IMF; they’ve got more cash, and time, and staff, for research.

      I also pointed out that I was speaking speculatively at the time.

      What I`m saying is that services have a value and that it is bizarre to only consider work which produces something mechanical to be of value.

      By which you ignore the distinction between value and worth, adequately dealt with in my previous answer.

      Were you aware that the US, Germany, Japan and the UK combined produce almost a third of all that is produced in the world (by value)?

      Yes. I also know that of those nations only one is post-industrial (us): the other three are all still on their industrial plateaux. My model predicts they will drop off it in the next fifty years. Watch that space. Also; see again the the problem with value, which is arbitrarily assigned. That’s why I was looking at unit production rather than production by value in my analysis.

      And, you may well decide that the *intrinsic value* of a cucumber is greater than that of a i-pod

      Of course not. What I might argue, however, is that the intrinsic value of an iPod is considerably lower than the retail price. And that the value of a cucumber versus and iPod depends on when you last ate versus how easy it is to get access to electric power where you live. And that the worth of a cucumber is determined (partly, though not entirely) by how much it costs to make, as is the worth of an iPod.

      At the moment what you seem to be saying is that since you don`t consider the things which are produced in the West (medicine, chemicals, jets, clever dicks) to be as intrinsically valuable as things, such as turnips and goats, which are produced with wild abandon in the poorer countries,

      Good straw man. Again. I don’t consider a self-referential and egregiously dishonest game of poker played with other people’s money to be as intrinsically valuable as growing, making and building things. The international financial industry which perpetrated the travesties we have all heard so much about is a symptom of too few people having all the money, not a cause of it. The Great Machine was built many, many years ago; it’s current operators are just that, operators and beneficiaries, not creators or causes.

      As an aside, the reason my posts have a 14-day auto-closure on them is to prevent such pointlessly circular arguments from continuing ad nauseam. This is going to get pretty tedious pretty quickly.

      Is there any alternative statistical method you`d like to suggest to test your ideas, or are we just supposed to take you word for it?

      Responding to my ideas, rather than perverting them first, would help.

      GDP and GNP are both measures designed for a purpose, and their indexes and criteria are chosen for that purpose. Both are compound indexes designed to tell people how effectively the plutocrats are operating the Great Machine. They are not designed to tell us about the nature of it. We already know that the richest nations are the ones furthest along the industrial curve (Western is, at this point, a coincidence rather than a determining criterion). That simply isn’t in doubt: is it?

      That`s what my question about centralisation was about – increased political and personal freedom is also economic decentralisation as people gain ownership and control of their own human capital.

      If that were true, the gap between rich and poor in the West would be shrinking, in parallel with our increasingly socially liberal society. It is, in fact, growing and growing fast. More of the money is in the hands of less of the people in 1970, and the chance for generational upward mobility is lower than it was in 1970.

      You have consistently attempted to pretend that relative wealth doesn’t make a difference to this analysis. Why?

      If money is being administered by a central body to the benefit of all, does this count as a centralisation of wealth?

      Again with the strawman. Yes: I would argue that taxation is the origin of this systemic flow of money. Yes, I would love to live in a world where no humans were anything other than good, honourable, well-intentioned and hard-working people provided with craft skills and realistic chances of dignified employment. But I’m not a fantasist, no matter how hard you try to make me look like one.

      Western companies are run exclusively to increase shareholder value, unless someone forces them to behave responsibly. Governments are run, in quasi-democratic nations, to implement policies which (at least in theory) should benefit all contributors. Like equality of opportunity for men and women in the work-force; which had to be imposed, and cost billions to even get as far as we currently are. Like health care that is universal, and free at point of need: also, education, universal and free. Both of those things would result in a massively enhanced, massively more flexible, highly-skilled and entrepreneurial economy; and yet we don’t do them. Why?

      My point, throughout, has been that we got here for good reasons. I have never claimed to like where we’ve got, but that’s a value judgment, not a functional one. Functionally, we are in a place where a shrinking group of entities have, or control, most of the money and most of the political power. That has consequences. This recession is one of them. Lord Sugar’s elevation to government is another.

      • Mark

        So, with regards to the offshore banking thing, no evidence? Not the most convincing of arguments.
        How does the corruption of African dictators translate into wealth transfers from Africa to the West?
        I think if this is something your basing your model of the world economy on, you should do a bit of research into it.

        I did talk about the difference beween value and worth – you are suggesting that we should judge things by the unit production rather than the value added? John, this is crazy talk… really. Why not just declare India the richest country in the world because it produces more cow dung than anywhere else? If we are simply going to discount how much people actually want things (as expressed by the price system) we really do have an arbitrary measurement which makes no account for quality, usefulness or anything really except sheer volume of production. It doesn`t make sense. [unless you`re suggesting that you alone are better placed to determine the *true* value of things]

        Financial systems enable us to work together more effectively – they enable the things which you desire. Think of financial systems as roads. Nothing wrong with roads.

        You haven`t addressed my point about the difference between GDP and GNP or proposed an alternative statistical method by which to test your theory…

        • johnqpublican

          So, with regards to the offshore banking thing, no evidence? Not the most convincing of arguments.

          I refer the honourable gentleman to my previous answer.

          How does the corruption of African dictators translate into wealth transfers from Africa to the West?

          Think about it. We put money into their pockets; they let us exploit their natural resources and their populations. Why is that in the interest of western logging firms, and Nestle, and Shell, and so on? Ah, that would be because we make a vast return on investment. Much higher than if we were trying to operate the same businesses within Europe. Hey look: that ROI is money flowing from the Third World towards the First, towards the centre of the Great Machine.

          I did talk about the difference between value and worth – you are suggesting that we should judge things by the unit production rather than the value added? John, this is crazy talk… really. Why not just declare India the richest country in the world because it produces more cow dung than anywhere else?

          Because I am not your straw man.

          You are attempting consistently to compare chalk with cheese. What I am trying to do is analyse a system. What you are trying to do is distract from that analysis.

          “Richest” does not equal ‘most industrially productive’, for a start. In fact, richest is a very difficult thing to assess, because GNP does not, for example, take into account pre-existing reserves of capital wealth in the hands of a nation’s citizens. We’re not talking about the same things, and this has been true at almost every point, but for some bizarre reason you seem to think that your distractions should be considered relevant…

          If we are simply going to discount how much people actually want things (as expressed by the price system)

          You really think that international pricing is determined by how much people want things? Really? You think that’s the only influence?

          Cartels. Monopolies. International copyright agreements. Treaty enforcement backed up by US military might, under Bush. The system is not run for the benefit of consumers; it is run for the benefit of accumulators.

          unless you`re suggesting that you alone are better placed to determine the *true* value of things

          Of course I’m not. I’m suggesting precisely what I said in the first Great Machine article, to which I refer anyone interested in finding out what I actually said rather than what Mark wants people to think I said.

          Financial systems enable us to work together more effectively – they enable the things which you desire. Think of financial systems as roads. Nothing wrong with roads.

          No, thank you, I’ll think of financial systems as a poker game played using other people’s money. You can think of it as like roads if you like; roads don’t take my money, store it in someone else’s pocket, and then let that someone else gamble with it, and then take several billion more to bail the gambler out when he systematically fucks up for 5 years.

          You haven`t addressed my point about the difference between GDP and GNP or proposed an alternative statistical method by which to test your theory…

          But I have explained why your difference is an irrelevancy to my point, and what my point actually is rather than what you’ve claimed it is. Your point is not about my argument: it’s about a different argument that you’re having in your head, where I’m claiming that tertiary industry is valueless. I’m not that stupid. Of course tertiary industry has value; I work in a service industry job myself, in part because the job I do is worth something and the job I used to do (also in tertiary industry, as a telecommunications engineer) was worth a lot less. But it also paid nearly four times as much… Go figure.

          The test of my model is whether what has happened to Britain between 1929 and 2009 can be seen happening to, in approximate order, the USA, Germany, Spain, Japan, and Italy over the period between 1973 and about fifty years from now. My argument is not a simple, statistical one. It is a synthesis of analytical cases drawn from archaeology, history, economics, political science, sociology and philosophy.

          • Mark

            What I`m disagreeing with is your belief that the west is rich because it takes money from poor countries –

            I`ve attempted to provide some statistical information to adress this question and rather than engage with it, you`ve told me that mere statistics are too crude a measure to use to test your views. (Also thrown up some wild stuff about trillions in offshore accounts which doesn`t make much sense)

            If there is no statistical measure which you will accept as proof or otherwise on this matter, if what you are saying cannot be confirmed or shown to be false, independantly with evidence, then your ideas are nothing but cockwaffle.
            Nothing wrong with a bit of cock-waffle. But as you are the producer of nothing but ass-trumpetry, I`d expect you to be more gracious towards alternative hypothesis, which are internally consistant and less sensitive to criticism.

            • Mark

              Oh… by the way… the difference between rich and poor is shrinking – shrinking in the real terms of what we can do.
              100 years ago the rich would travel around Europe while the rest of us would go to scunthorpe.
              Now, we all travel around the world together…

              • johnqpublican

                To start with, no, it bloody well isn’t: and you’re the one that accuses me of making insupportable contentions.

                Dealing with your daft analogy; you think a kid from supported housing in Hackney or from Mosside or from Partick in Glasgow “travels round the world together”? Much more importantly, I grew up among people who in my generation might, if they were adventurous, have travelled 300 miles from home. The previous generation, most of them hadn’t ever been as much as 30 miles from where they were born. That’s because they were subsistence farmers and the best method of transport available to them was shank’s mare. The wealth gap is a global as well as a national phenomenon, and pretending it’s shrinking is not going to help make it actually shrink.

                I’m going to re-iterate a question you have now ignored at least three times, and which I think is at the root of your relentless attempts to grind me into submission by sheer verbiage; you have consistently, throughout these debates, pretended that relative wealth is irrelevant. Why?

                Permit me to quote:

                Although free trade, the opening up of global markets and the transformation of European economies from agriculture to manufacturing delivered prosperity for many, they were also accompanied by a rising incidence of poverty amongst the new urban working classes. […]

                Laissez-faire economic policies and the unrestrained pursuit of profit had given rise to new forms of poverty and injustice; the economic liberty of the few had blighted the life chances of the many. Negative liberty, the removal of constraints on the individual – the central aim of classical liberalism – would not necessarily lead to freedom of choice for all, as not everyone enjoyed access to the same opportunities; freedom of choice was therefore heavily constrained.

                From the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, Duncan Brack and Ed Randall. The emphasis is mine.

                Relative wealth is important politically and in terms of understanding how economic realities underpin social change and societal failures. To a very large extent, what I’ve been doing here is investigating the ways in which relative wealth has affected society since it was first accumulated. You’ve written conservatively twice as many words as I put in my original articles, and yet you have not addressed the significant points of my argument at all. Let’s start with relative wealth: why do you keep pretending it is not relevant?

                • Mark

                  You`re making the mistake of using rather unsubtle (and meaningless) statistics in your analysis. It really doesn`t matter a jot what someone has in their bank account – it matters what people are able to do.
                  I`d imagine that Rooney has somewhere in the region of a 100 thousand times as much wealth as me (in crude monetary terms), but what can he do that I can`t?
                  I guess his car is alot more expensive, as is his shirt – but how much difference does this make to his life ( I expect this depends on how important you think conspicuous consumption and wealth is) – I`d imagine that the life of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or David Beckham – once you strip away the designer brands, are remarkably similar to the lives of ordinary people in the west – I`d also imagine that their lives are far closer to those of the poor in our countries than was the case in the Roman empire, 16th or early 20th century.

                  Why isn`t relative wealth important? Personally, I try not to care to much about what other people have – I don`t think it`s condusive to a happy life to worry about having the same amount as someone else who you`ve never met – especially when their riches don`t buy them anything that any of us actually need.
                  Absolute, grinding poverty is certainly something I want to avoid if possible – but as long as I`ve got enough, I don`t consider what someone else has to be particuarly significant.

                  In the same way – I widening of the wealth gap in countries which were formally almost entirely reliant upon subsistance agriculture, is a sign that some proportion of the population have managed to drag themselves out of this miserable (actually, you tell me…?) condition.

                  Structurally speaking – if you have wealth – spanking new nice machines, roads, institutions – then you`ll be better placed to improve (up to a technolgical point…) I don`t disagree with this. What I disagree with is you saying that the West is either “losing the economic war against China” or that “poorer nations are feeding money to the G8 nations”.
                  Which is why i`m adressing those points.

                  If I were to tell you that the sun will rise tomorrow because Apollo is chasing the moon accross the sky, which part would you disagree with?

                  • johnqpublican

                    You`re making the mistake of using rather unsubtle (and meaningless) statistics in your analysis. It really doesn`t matter a jot what someone has in their bank account – it matters what people are able to do.

                    bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt! Wrong. If someone has a huge pile of cash in their bank account, they can buy laws; that’s what privilege means. So, you have just disqualified yourself from discussion, and can be safely ignored. I am going to pick up one later aspect:

                    Why isn`t relative wealth important? Personally, I try not to care to much about what other people have

                    What you care about isn’t relevant. Relative wealth creates relative power. Empowering the tiny few over the working many is precisely what makes capitalism work; it concentrates resources in a smaller number of hands, thus making resource management more efficient in a low-bandwidth society. I’ve covere this. The rest of your comment is simply posturing.

                    I didn’t ask about your personal ethics or philosophy. I analysed the effects of wealth accumulation on society over the course of several thousand years; you have yet to present any arguments which even address that, and I’ve now been arguing with you for over twenty thousand words of text.

                    What I disagree with is you saying that the West is either “losing the economic war against China” or that “poorer nations are feeding money to the G8 nations”.
                    Which is why i`m adressing those points.

                    Except that you aren’t. You have not even once responded to the issue of investment returns, which are the underlying factor behind the second of those: nor have your recognised that in an analysis of how national economies change by sector at different stages in the industrial process, unit production is an indicator, as is percentage employment.

                    You are arguing about something I’m not talking about. Why are you arguing about it here?

                    • Mark

                      So Bill Gates, as the richest man in the world, is able to do anything he wishes.
                      Which planet do you live on?

                      “You are arguing about something I’m not talking about. Why are you arguing about it here?”
                      Uh… those quotation marks weren`t for fun John – that`s exactly what you did say.
                      I take it from the way you`re trying to disown your previous statements that you now consider them to be wrong.
                      It`s just a shame that you can`t admit it to yourself…

                    • Mark

                      unit production and percentage of employment are useful tools in analysis of how economies change by sector, in the same way that an analysis of the kinds of food we eat is useful to give us information about the kind of food we eat.

                      It`s less useful when trying to argue that we`re losing an economic war with China or that poor countries are sending us money.

                    • Mark

                      By talking about GNP vs. GDP I was precisely addressing the point of investment returns –

                      I`m not 100% sure that my method is correct, but the only major disagreement you have come up with is that we can`t rely upon the price system, that your economic ideas can`t be tested and that we should all just trust your opinion.

            • johnqpublican

              What I`m disagreeing with is your belief that the west is rich because it takes money from poor countries –

              From countries further back on the industrialisation level, yes: we just call it “Return on Investment”.

              Liberal politicians have done a lot to reverse the flow, through things like international aid: but only because they realise that having a whole species all of which operates at the tech and education level of the West would be good for everyone.

              I`ve attempted to provide some statistical information to adress this question

              No, you haven’t. You’ve talked a lot of rubbish about why GDPs are different from GNPs and what “value added” means. I wasn’t talking about any of those things, so your statistical information is addressing a different question.

              Simple terms, once more; capital breeds wealth. Industrialising early provides capital; that capital then breeds wealth. Are you arguing with this contention?

              You also seem to believe I’m making value judgements, hence your use of loaded terminology. While I have made such judgements in other posts, I haven’t in this sequence. I’ve been talking about what capitalism is better at than any alternative system; why do you keep implying that I’m in some way attacking capitalism?

              • Mark

                “Simple terms, once more; capital breeds wealth. Industrialising early provides capital; that capital then breeds wealth. Are you arguing with this contention?”

                Wealth for one does not mean poverty for another.

                • Mark

                  “I’ve been talking about what capitalism is better at than any alternative system; why do you keep implying that I’m in some way attacking capitalism?”

                  Because I think that capitalism is simply a way to make the products of our labour more liquid and provide us with greater freedom. I`m in no way convinced that the concentration of power in the hands of a few is a neccesary condition for economic development (beyond the concentration that must exist as a consequence of human nature) – I`m not convinced that the concentration of wealth is a result of rapacious taxation, rather than those individuals/areas greater production of wealth (as we see in the modern world)
                  I also think that it`s very difficult to determine what actually constitutes economic/ political centralisation since leaders must always recieve some level of support from below and provide some useful service (such as security) if they are to be anything more than bandits – in which case, the concentration argument is complicated yet again.

                  If you are stating that what capitalism is good at is taking money from the many and giving it to the few, then I`d consider that an attack of sorts…

                  • johnqpublican

                    Because I think that capitalism is simply a way to make the products of our labour more liquid and provide us with greater freedom.

                    Er, no. Capitalism is a way to make the products of our labour more commoditised, and it is a way to provide capital accumulators with greater freedom relative to capital contributors. Increasing freedom for everyone else has been pretty much an unintended side-effect, in so far as it has happened at all (see my quote above, which I notice you’ve completely ignored); and has been proved easily reversible in the modern era. Observe how much less free we are to grow a naturally occurring mushroom in this country than we were under pre-capitalist regimes. Observe how much less free we are to stand outside Parliament and make our will as a people known. Observe how much less free we are than even a year ago, when we were still allowed to take pictures of policemen. And so on, and so on.

                    Your analysis ascribes intrinsic moral value to something which to me is an amoral, mechanical function. It’s a way of doing things, which has implications. My analysis here is not a value judgment; it’s a functional one.

                    I`m in no way convinced that the concentration of power in the hands of a few is a neccesary condition for economic development (beyond the concentration that must exist as a consequence of human nature)

                    Good lord. Is that the doctrine of Manifest Destiny I see inserted parenthetically? Weird.

                    Also, you are indulging in straw men, here. I have never claimed this. I have said that such systemic concentration has occurred in every single surviving civilisation. I have then hypothesised that such a universally successful schema must have clearly superior competitive features, and have attempted to figure out what they were. Resource concentration and coherent management of large-scale entities at low bandwidth levels are the obvious ones, with a number of corollaries such as enhanced technological evolution rate generated by urbanisation.

                    I`m not convinced that the concentration of wealth is a result of rapacious taxation, rather than those individuals/areas greater production of wealth (as we see in the modern world)

                    I know you’re not convinced, but I’m afraid that really doesn’t matter. Also, I don’t believe I used the word rapacious once, or even implied it. I’ve told you what the current archaeological and historical models show; I’ve laid out why they work that way in layman’s terms. That you have decided to stuff your fingers in your ears is not my problem.

                    Taxation is not synonymous with modern capital accumulation. However, the first capital accumulators were also the first taxation authorities. That’s just what happened. Later, things got more complicated and we invented money, then finance, and since then it’s all looked a lot more like the world you’re used to.

                    I also think that it`s very difficult to determine what actually constitutes economic/ political centralisation

                    No, it isn’t. It can be very easily identified. How many people are in the ‘have’ list and how many in the ‘have-not’, expressed as a proportion of the total figure of people. The smaller the number in column A, the more centralised power and resources in your society are. This is really not rocket science, but it is why relative wealth is so important in analysing socio-economic models.

                    If you are stating that what capitalism is good at is taking money from the many and giving it to the few, then I`d consider that an attack of sorts…

                    Well, that wasn’t my argument but I do have to ask: why? Why is it an attack to say that capitalism is good at something? The only way I can see that is if you are making a value judgment. I am not.

                    You apparently are; you seem to feel that taking money away from the many and giving it to the few is a bad thing. I, contrarily, have spent some weeks arguing that it’s a good thing. In fact, I recall implying that it was necessary.

                    When I have my personal, ethical philosopher hat on, yeah, I think redistribution is a good idea. I think that because I’m poor, mostly, and because I grew up among the poor: though I also thought it necessary when I was relatively rich, and was paying nearly my current salary in tax. At that time I supported a 50% tax bracket, and I still do. But the fact that I think it’s a good idea isn’t why I support it.

                    When I have my functionalist, professional analyst hat on, I support it because redistribution leads to higher education and communications levels across the whole of the human species, that’s all of us. Increased education and information access levels lead, my analysis suggests, to more efficient production, more effective social organisations and more vigorous demands for freedom of choice and freedom of opportunity. My analysis suggests that as education goes up, so does freedom. It also suggests that as education goes up, so does personal autonomy. I’m massively in favour of personal autonomy.

                    So; as far as I can tell, your beef with me is that I am attacking capitalism by saying it concentrates resources and thus manages them very efficiently in low-bandwidth societies. To me, that’s a compliment; we couldn’t have got here without it.

                    I therefore suspect that your real discomfort comes from my final analysis: that since we no longer live in a low-bandwidth civilisation, capitalism may now face effective competition from other models, which has until now never been possible. That’s all my analysis says; not that capitalism is not the way of the future (it might well be) but that it may, for the first time ever, now be exposed to viable competition in the paradigm market place. Are you so sure it will lose that you find this to be an attack on capitalism? Is the capitalist paradigm so flawed that it requires intellectual protectionism, that it cannot countenance any competition? Is it, in fact, a paradigm so fragile that it can only survive as a violently-imposed monopoly?

                    I don’t think so. I think it’s a robust model with a number of advantages and corollary disadvantages. So, in precisely what way am I attacking capitalism?

                    • Mark

                      Yeah… the problem is that I think your functional analysis is wrong – you obviously don`t have much time for dissenters though, so that`s not important.

                      I`m sure we can sit around and find ways in which people living in huts are free to fuck monkeys, or people living in modern capitalist societies are free to live their lives without fear of starvation. But I was specifically refering to the freedom to decide your own project and leave it if you wish to. Being able to sell capital allows us to do that and provides us with more *economic* freedom than any other concievable model – since the illegality or otherwise of mushrooms and protests have absolutely nothing to do with capitalism, you really are barrel scraping here. BTW, that`s *not* a moral judgement, it just happens to be true.
                      I will also say that a discussion of economic and political systems without reference to what people actually want seems to me to be a little pointless…

                      So… because hierachies exist, they cause economic development. Is your follow up to this going to be a piece about the economic signifigance of breathing?
                      Maybe i`ve been giving you too much credit in considering you incorrect rather than utterly banal…?

                      “You apparently are; you seem to feel that taking money away from the many and giving it to the few is a bad thing. I, contrarily, have spent some weeks arguing that it’s a good thing. In fact, I recall implying that it was necessary.”

                      Yes, yes, yes! That is exactly right! I do believe that taking money from the many and giving it to the few is both functionally useless and morally wrong. That is exactly what this argument *has* been about – that and your inability to see that the modern capitalist system is built upon a foundation of mutually beneficial trade within a legal framework…

                      By the way … the reason I think capitalism is pretty nifty is the one given above – I think it`s the way which gives us a motivation to build and invest in the knowledge that we can profit from it, without being tied to projects we might have lost interest in but have no effective way to leave without sacrificing our hard work (as happens in collective systems). But that doesn`t mean I have anything against other forms of ownership – what i`m really in favour of is markets and as many different forms of ownership as possible, competing within the market.

                • johnqpublican

                  No. It means relative poverty for the other. Thanks for playing.

                  • Mark

                    Yeah… so lets say you`re a piss poor stick farmer and i build a house… that makes you relatively poorer…

                    But can you explain to me why you consider this to be significant?

                    • johnqpublican

                      I don’t, particularly.

                      I do consider the distinction between having personal wealth that is significantly greater than the GDP + cash reserves of nation states to be significant relative to other people having to choose between food and clothes in any given month.

                      Strawmen, again. This is getting really tedious.

                    • Mark

                      It`s not the money you`re worried about, it`s the power.

                      Giving money to people who have spent their lives doing something valuable, or organising others to do so and restricting their power through a legal system is actually one of the least worrying forms of power-distribution ever devised… wouldn`t you say?

  3. Mark

    RE: EU.

    Why should greater economic co-operation be dependant upon political centralisation?

    Thats what I took to be the UKIP`s view…

    One I think is rather attractive.

    • johnqpublican

      I don’t think it should be dependent in that relationship. As I’ve said before, I personally do not think hierarchical systems are the best model for the future, now that we are able to technologically support more flexible solutions which move autonomy to the edge. But we’ve already got all these nation states, some of them have nukes and I’d quite like the trade wars to be headed off by negotiation some time before they turn into shooting wars. There are compelling reasons to suggest that federalism, with its capacity for a rational give-and-take between the need for localised autonomy and the need for co-operative long term forward planning, has considerable merit.

      UKIPs view is that all Euro laws are useless and intrinsically offensive to Britain’s independence, and that the primary reason to send UKIP politicians to Brussels is so that they can vote against everything, and thus reduce the total quantity of ‘foreign law’ being ‘imposed’ on Britain. It boils down, as I said, to ‘We don’t like the French or the Germans’. Three pamphlets in a week. Only Lynne Featherstone did better round my way.

      If you want to open borders (which would be a huge economic advantage, if we’d just educate our poor better over here) and permit flexibility of employment across the economic region: if you want to free up the markets within that region, then there needs to be coherence of at the very least quality control and contract law. Since I personally am in favour of enhancing personal freedoms, personal rights and personal autonomy, and since we are in a world where only the super-rich can get anything done, I’m also in favour of a political European consensus on things like not killing women for having sex, not banning contraception and not invading Iraq.

      I note that you have (just like you did with the entire Great Machine series) ignored my main point and focussed on a distraction. My main point was about the anti-democratic nature of our current constitutional environment (under FPTP and with the unwarranted executive power-grab that Thatcher started and Blair gladly continued), which permits a PM on his own recognizance to hand a plutocrat life-long power in the land for no better reason than that he’s a plutocrat. It’s almost as though people thought that being rich made you automatically a good candidate for government.

      … oh wait. That would be the Great Machine at work, then.

  4. johnqpublican

    Mark: for some reason WordPress comment code has failed to give me reply options to your most recent three missives: I’m therefore going to amalgamate them onto this new thread.

    So Bill Gates, as the richest man in the world, is able to do anything he wishes.
    Which planet do you live on?

    “You are arguing about something I’m not talking about. Why are you arguing about it here?”

    Uh… those quotation marks weren`t for fun John – that`s exactly what you did say. I take it from the way you`re trying to disown your previous statements that you now consider them to be wrong.
    It`s just a shame that you can`t admit it to yourself…

    Regarding Mr. Gates; first, I thought the Sultan of Brunei was the world’s richest man; Gates is richer than many countries but not as rich as some of the oil magnates. Secondly, strawman alert. I never said he can do anything he wants. I said he can buy laws; which he did, famously, by sponsoring George Bush’s campaign for the presidency as a reaction to the Democratic-led Justice Department handing down a realistic verdict in the MS monopolies case. It’s called privilege, and in capitalist societies it is financially deterministic. America legalised bribery via ‘soft money’ contributions; the whole West endorsed financial privilege by permitting party-building. Those who have huge piles of money get to influence law; they just buy the politicians in both parties. Those who do not have huge piles of cash do not get to do that. I quoted a nice summary of the argument from the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, which you studiously ignored.

    I am not trying to disown any statements. Your quotes are accurate; my statements were accurate. You, however, ascribe meanings and intentions to those statements which I never made. Straw men; again.

    Your arguments are not relevant to my statements. Your claim that Britain is a better manufacturer than China is based on how much money we make, not based on how much, how well, or how cheaply we manufacture objects. My statements were about the latter, yours were about the former. This is a persistent theme.

    You are not arguing about the same things as me. In political discussion, that’s called ‘derailing’. I really wish you’d stop.

    Unit production and percentage of employment are useful tools in analysis of how economies change by sector, in the same way that an analysis of the kinds of food we eat is useful to give us information about the kind of food we eat.

    It`s less useful when trying to argue that we`re losing an economic war with China or that poor countries are sending us money.

    If I understand this correctly (and it’s not entirely clear what you mean… possibly because I’m still on my first cup of tea today), then you have once again misunderstood, or possibly are willfully misrepresenting, my argument. I didn’t say we were losing an economic war (I said trade, for a start: one is a subset of the other). To be slightly clearer; the Chinese are more effective manufacturers than us, also more efficient, and they are only in the state they’re in now because of legacy factors (which I analysed). We are per-head richer, have a higher GDP and a massively more educated population, for equally historical reason (which I also analysed). I pointed out the reasons why we, as a manufacturing economy, are getting both steadily less efficient and less effective; I pointed out that they are getting better on both counts (that’s what ‘industrialisation’ pretty much means).

    Regarding the other: this again? You don’t like it: I know, I understand, I get it, but claiming that Western firms do not profit from 3rd World ventures is ridiculous. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be doing those ventures, they’re capitalists.

    By talking about GNP vs. GDP I was precisely addressing the point of investment returns –

    I`m not 100% sure that my method is correct, but the only major disagreement you have come up with is that we can`t rely upon the price system, that your economic ideas can`t be tested and that we should all just trust your opinion.

    No, in fact, you were not at all. You were talking about value added. I was talking about units made and unit cost and how those things affect wealth multiplication. I wasn’t talking about price: I was talking about worth versus value. My analysis is cross-disciplinary and structural, not quantitative. “Statistics” are not the issue. Functions and processes are the issue.

    My point from weeks ago was that as a national economy gets further up the industrial process, and as wealth begins to trickle down, education levels rise among the workforce, they start expecting a fairer deal, pay has to rise, thus unit cost efficiency for the economy as a whole goes down in proportion to living cost going up and manufacturing moves elsewhere in the world.

    That’s what closed Longbridge. That’s why industrial discourse for the last forty years in Britain has been dominated by the steady exodus of manufacturing from our shores. If you are prepared to contest that point, do so; but don’t rattle on about GDPs. Talk about what proportion of things made, are made here versus what proportion of things made, aren’t: and talk about why that might be the case.

    My analysis is also projective. I’m taking a long view, correlating trends with indicators and making predictions. You can’t assess my model statistically, because it is not a quantitative analysis. You have to assess it procedurally, and no-one will know for sure if I’m right until they can use hindsight; precisely as with John Stewart Mill, Marx and Milton Friedman, all of whom turned out to be wrong to a greater or lesser degree, but all of whom also turned out to in parts be right. I have no doubt I will turn out to be wrong in at least some particulars; for example, the data about China’s tertiary industrial sector surprised me and I don’t know how that fits yet. It may mean I need to reassess China’s stage in the industrial process, or it may mean I need to edit my procedural model of that process.

    I’m getting really tired of having to point out that you are not arguing with me but with straw men. Your crowing over knocking these straw men down is reminiscent of the phrase ‘Mission Accomplished’ written on an air-craft carrier. To engage with what I’m saying, you would first have to put down several assumptions you have never tried to support, merely stated as facts (e.g. “The wealth gap is shrinking”), and accept that my analytical tools and models are drawn from more than one field and then synthesised. Unless you are willing to do that, I really don’t see how this process can turn from you pissing me off into both of us learning something…

    • Mark

      I know you didn`t say that Bill Gates can do anything – but you were arguing that the size of someones bank balance is of utmost significance in determining their ability to do things. But the ability of Bill Gates to influence government policy is not directly proportional to his bank balance – he doesn`t have a billion times more influence than a man with one pound – we`re all constrained by social mores and laws and it`s *this* which is significant. An increasing difference in the size of the bank balances can only ever be part of the story (and probably none of it) – it`s more important to analyse what they can actually do rather than simply rely upon the amount they have in the bank.

      “the Chinese are more effective manufacturers than us, also more efficient”

      They are only more efficient if you view peoples time as an irrelevence.

      “claiming that Western firms do not profit from 3rd World ventures is ridiculous. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be doing those ventures, they’re capitalists.”

      I`m not claiming that foreign firms don`t profit, but domestic workers profit too (don`t forget workers aren`t for sale). In fact, isn`t foreign investment in poor countries the opposite to the process you are talking about? I go to some shithole country, build a factory in a mud pile and all of a sudden stick-farmers who were making 1 dollar a day picking sticks, can make 2 dollars a day making shoes.

      Further, if the western countries are running trade deficits, it is because the poorer countries are *investing in the west* rather than the other way around.

      But this is all irrelevant because we aren`t talking about money. Sorry.

      “education levels rise among the workforce, they start expecting a fairer deal, pay has to rise, thus unit cost efficiency for the economy as a whole goes down in proportion to living cost going up and manufacturing moves elsewhere in the world.”

      Nah. Education rises so workers can produce more in less time (productivity increases) and therefore we all get richer. I`m afraid that I don`t believe that the economy would have continued to grow for the last 60 odd years if all that was happening was a bit of wealth redistribution without anything backing it up.
      Thats the reason why fewer people work in agriculture (we can produce more food with fewer people required – people have become educated and can perform other jobs which are valued more highly – we trade for the food we don`t grow.).
      Lets look at your alternative – people get educated, have a huffy fit because they`re not getting paid enough – the farms go bankrupt because they can`t afford to keep employing their workers – the workers go into industries which are *less valuable* – we manage to get all of our food anyway.
      And this has continued for fifty years? John, even if you`re right this can only rightly be categorized as the greatest *victory* in the history of the world. We`ve convinced people to feed us despite doing absolutely nothing of value.

      • johnqpublican

        I know you didn`t say that Bill Gates can do anything – but you were arguing that the size of someones bank balance is of utmost significance in determining their ability to do things. But the ability of Bill Gates to influence government policy is not directly proportional to his bank balance – he doesn`t have a billion times more influence than a man with one pound – we`re all constrained by social mores and laws and it`s *this* which is significant.

        This is a statement of faith, and ideological; not a statement of reality. You also tried to present me as having claimed Bill Gates could do anything; you here admit I do not. You are, therefore, deliberately misrepresenting me; knowingly so. Don’t do that.

        Bill Gates has considerably more than a billion times the influence of a man with one pound. A man with one pound is either going to starve or steal, and as a result is considered to be outside our of social system through crime. A man with one pound will have no fixed abode, and therefore will not be on the electoral register, and so doesn’t have a vote at all. A man with one pound, is fucked.

        The rule of law is only impartial when rich men do not write the laws. They do; ask any feminist or any anti-racism campaigner. You are, in fact, stating an ideological position as if it were a fact. I told people not to do that here. I said it, right there on the “About” page.

        An increasing difference in the size of the bank balances can only ever be part of the story

        Correct.

        “the Chinese are more effective manufacturers than us, also more efficient”

        They are only more efficient if you view peoples time as an irrelevence.

        Okay, yes, you’re right. I did not express myself adequately, there; sorry. “Cost-efficient”.

        I`m not claiming that foreign firms don`t profit, but domestic workers profit too (don`t forget workers aren`t for sale).

        Which is irrelevant unless the proportion of profit which stays in the country of production is higher than the profit returned to the west. That is the only situation in which the overall function is not to move wealth from the edge to the centre.

        In fact, isn`t foreign investment in poor countries the opposite to the process you are talking about?

        Only if the profits don’t come back to the West. And when that happens we call it ‘international aid’ not ‘foreign investment’. Investments show a profit; that intrinsically moves the wealth from where it was produced to where the investment came from: edge, to centre.

        Nah. Education rises so workers can produce more in less time (productivity increases) and therefore we all get richer. I`m afraid that I don`t believe that the economy would have continued to grow for the last 60 odd years if all that was happening was a bit of wealth redistribution without anything backing it up.

        … Well, that’s weird. You’re talking as if the Enlightenment attitude of extending education outside the ruling class could only have one effect, and therefore that quoting an effect you like automatically precludes the effect I mentioned.

        The benefit to the capitalists of increasing education levels is that an educated workforce is more flexible, more technologically capable and more effective. Absolutely, well done. A subsequent effect is that people who are educated are able to look at bad health and safety conditions and form unions to fix them. Then, all of a sudden, they realise that they can also get paid a fairer wage if they have a union… Hey look.

        Once again with the attempt at derailing. All I did was say what happened; as education levels go up, people expect to get paid more. The result of that expectation is that your national economy gets less cost-effective when it comes to manufacturing and manufacturing moves elsewhere.

        Thats the reason why fewer people work in agriculture (we can produce more food with fewer people required – people have become educated and can perform other jobs which are valued more highly – we trade for the food we don`t grow.).

        Except that isn’t why they left the land. They left the land between 1750 and 1850 because the early industrialists were in a serious labour shortage, and were paying quite well. It was the young men leaving the land which drove the application of mechanical expertise to intensive farming techniques (combined with the UK land shortage caused by being an island). You’re suggesting it was the other way around.

        As soon as there was a captive population in the towns (we’re talking between 1800 and about 1950 here) the wages started to go down and the working conditions began to deteriorate, which gives rise to organised labour.

        Lets look at your alternative – people get educated, have a huffy fit because they`re not getting paid enough – the farms go bankrupt because they can`t afford to keep employing their workers – the workers go into industries which are *less valuable* – we manage to get all of our food anyway.

        Which isn’t what happened, and it isn’t what I claimed happened. You are, once again, willfully misrepresenting me. Please don’t do that.

  5. johnqpublican

    Also, the next one:

    Yeah… the problem is that I think your functional analysis is wrong – you obviously don`t have much time for dissenters though, so that`s not important.

    I`m sure we can sit around and find ways in which people living in huts are free to fuck monkeys, or people living in modern capitalist societies are free to live their lives without fear of starvation. But I was specifically refering to the freedom to decide your own project and leave it if you wish to.

    I have no problems with dissent: what you’re involved in is trolling. It doesn’t matter if you think my functional analysis is wrong unless you can debate it. You haven’t even tried. You keep rattling on about things that have nothing to do with my points.

    I have zero freedom to decide my own projects. I must work because I must eat. I must work for someone else because I must eat. I have no capital wealth, I have no way to get capital wealth, the system is designed to ensure that if I want to start my own project I have to borrow. That means that the profits will go to someone else from my project, and it also means that I can’t leave it if I want to; the creditor will send people to my door who are legally allowed to beat me up for money. That’s also new in the UK, btw. Bailiffs were only recently granted powers of violence and the right to break down your door.

    Being able to sell capital allows us to do that and provides us with more *economic* freedom than any other concievable model – since the illegality or otherwise of mushrooms and protests have absolutely nothing to do with capitalism, you really are barrel scraping here.

    Either we are getting freer or we’re not. My analysis is socio-economic: capitalism is a social paradigm as much as it is an economic one. Your attempts to challenge my analysis are flawed in part because you do not recognise this as a multi-faceted issue and keep trying to boil it down to numbers.

    BTW, that`s *not* a moral judgement, it just happens to be true.

    No, that’s something people involved in Cold War propaganda spent a lot of time shouting about which has never been true. The flaw in that thinking is dealt with in the quote I provided earlier (which you have still ignored).

    I will also say that a discussion of economic and political systems without reference to what people actually want seems to me to be a little pointless…

    Since when in hell did what people want ever matter? You’re supposed to be the economist: me wanting a capital stake to buy my own pub is not going to provide one. I’ve been talking throughout about what actually happened, not about what I might wish had happened.

    So… because hierachies exist, they cause economic development. Is your follow up to this going to be a piece about the economic signifigance of breathing?

    Which isn’t what I said. Again with the straw men: again with the misrepresentations. If anything, I suggested that capital accumulation breeds hierarchies, rather than vice versa. I said the the system has evolved in a way which moves money from edge to centre, and I investigated what functional advantages this confers. You have yet to contest them.

    “Economic development” is not caused by hierarchy, and I’ve never claimed it was; those are your words, your meanings. What I actually said is clearly laid out, several times in several places. Ad hominem insults snipped.

    “You apparently are; you seem to feel that taking money away from the many and giving it to the few is a bad thing. I, contrarily, have spent some weeks arguing that it’s a good thing. In fact, I recall implying that it was necessary.”

    Yes, yes, yes! That is exactly right! I do believe that taking money from the many and giving it to the few is both functionally useless and morally wrong. That is exactly what this argument *has* been about – that and your inability to see that the modern capitalist system is built upon a foundation of mutually beneficial trade within a legal framework…

    Interesting. And yet, you cannot contest that relative wealth exists. Functionally, every time a boss takes a profit from many workers, wealth is passing from many to few. And you say this is both useless and morally wrong? I don’t.

    Also: the modern capitalist system may well evolve into a system of mutually beneficial trade within a legal framework. What it is based upon is eight thousand years of civil history. That’s why I did this from an historical perspective, and that’s why you failure to engage with an inter-disciplinary analysis has left you chasing your own tail for three weeks.

    By the way … the reason I think capitalism is pretty nifty is the one given above – I think it`s the way which gives us a motivation to build and invest in the knowledge that we can profit from it, without being tied to projects we might have lost interest in but have no effective way to leave without sacrificing our hard work (as happens in collective systems). But that doesn`t mean I have anything against other forms of ownership – what i`m really in favour of is markets and as many different forms of ownership as possible, competing within the market.

    And here again you shift ground: we’re now talking about what you’re “in favour of”: when we started this, we were talking about what actually happened over the last eight thousand years of human history. Can you see that the two really have nothing to do with each other?

    Now, returning to your points: collective systems, to you, seem to be synonymous with ‘statist/hierarchical enforced collectivism’. The webserver Apache is a collective project. Debian, Red Hat, Bind, Climate Camp, John Lewis Partnership, and the Co-Op Bank are all collective projects. You’re talking out your ass.

    which gives us a motivation to build and invest in the knowledge that we can profit from it

    deserved quoting again.

    That statement is only true for a very small number of people. I have zero opportunities to build or invest. None at all. I have no money, my parents are poor so I will inherit no money (nor land, nor anything else useful). Every month, I have slightly less money than living in London costs. That ‘slightly’ is about £30, typically. I, and the vast majority of humans, have no capital and are in a system whose function is to funnel wealth towards those who already have it. Therefore, the system is designed to make it as hard as possible for me to get off ground zero.

    Unless I borrow from someone who already has a huge pile of cash. That not only places me directly into their power, it also means that the work I then do will profit them. That perpetuates the flow of money from edge to centre.

    Everything you say here is true, if you’re already a capital accumulator. Most of humanity are not.

    And again I say, how much you or I like capitalism is not and has never been the issue in this thesis. You don’t get to define the issue; I posed the thesis, that defines the issue. Otherwise, you’re just standing in my house shouting.

    The issue has been how it functions, not whether I like it. You have failed at any point to even remotely contest the functional argument I have presented. You seem blind to the concept of ‘starting conditions’ and the implications thereof for analysing complex systems; you don’t seem to believe that relative wealth is significant, and you don’t seem to understand that industrialisation is a process not a cornucopia.

    If you are close to the centre of the Great Machine, then the world looks fair. If you are not, it doesn’t. And I don’t care about that right now. Different issue, different series of posts. What I care about in writing the Great Machine is how we got where we are; you have failed to in any way contest my thesis on that topic.

  6. Mark

    “I have zero freedom to decide my own projects. I must work because I must eat. I must work for someone else because I must eat. I have no capital wealth, I have no way to get capital wealth, the system is designed to ensure that if I want to start my own project I have to borrow.”

    Right, sorry – I was talking about reality again. I think we can ignore the neccesity of eating as a feature specific to the capitalist system. I am, of course talking here about freedom within the bounds of possibility – yes – you have to work to eat, yes – we are social animals and you`ll probably have to gain the agreement of other humans and no – you can`t do anything you like.
    Now that we`ve got those universal conditions out of the way, let`s move on.

    Yes – if you borrow money from people you have to pay interest. Presumably the profit you`ll recieve from your enterprise will be greater than the amount of interest you pay which means you`ll be an accumulator of capital… the idea of having to pay interest isn`t an imposition on our freedom – it`s us coming to an agreement with someone over a valuable commodity which they possess (money as social cache) which we want.
    Yes – we must get peoples agreement, we can`t force them to give it to us for free.

    No, i`m not viewing viewing collective models as statist or coercive – but if i have no means to individualy own or sell the means of production, how can I leave and take full advantage of any investment i`ve made into said capital? I can`t. I just have to leave it to someone else.
    That`s an advantage of capital.
    If you have no interest or ability to invest in capital, you`d be better off working in a collective system. Fair enough.
    I`m not talking out of my ass.

    Question –
    Does me building a house lead to a hierachy?

    And…
    I don`t have any problem with relative wealth when it is caused by people *giving* money to someone.
    I have a problem when it is caused by people *taking* it.

    (BTW, you`re the one who speculated upon my view of capitalism, i`m just clearing things up. )

    Yes, you might have to borrow money to get things done. In order to borrow money you`ll have to convince people to lend it to you – I don`t consider this in anyway note worthy.

    • johnqpublican

      Right, sorry – I was talking about reality again. I think we can ignore the neccesity of eating as a feature specific to the capitalist system. I am, of course talking here about freedom within the bounds of possibility – yes – you have to work to eat, yes – we are social animals and you`ll probably have to gain the agreement of other humans and no – you can`t do anything you like.
      Now that we`ve got those universal conditions out of the way, let`s move on.

      No, you can’t. Because the important bit is “I must work for someone else“. I cannot set up my own project; I have no capital. Therefore I must serve someone who does have capital. Not an option; a constraint.

      Yes – if you borrow money from people you have to pay interest. Presumably the profit you`ll recieve from your enterprise will be greater than the amount of interest you pay which means you`ll be an accumulator of capital… the idea of having to pay interest isn`t an imposition on our freedom – it`s us coming to an agreement with someone over a valuable commodity which they possess (money as social cache) which we want.

      Ever hear of the ‘level playing field’? That’s something we don’t have. That’s what this series of posts was about. This comment is therefore irrelevant. The point is that the capitalist, simply because they as a starting condition have capital, gets to have more capital as a result of my work. They are thereby moving money from me (the edge) towards the centre. It’s not all the money: it’s some of the money. But it’s still flowing. Ultimately, over the life of the business, I will pay the capitalist considerably more than they lent me. Zero money has flowed towards me; a lot of money has flowed towards them.

      I`m not talking out of my ass.

      You can make that statement once you’ve addressed the list of successful collective projects I presented you with. You have not done so.

      I don`t have any problem with relative wealth when it is caused by people *giving* money to someone.
      I have a problem when it is caused by people *taking* it.

      Sure. And I “give” my money to the board of directors of RBS, right? I “give” my money to my boss; no, I don’t. What happens is my work earns him a lot of money and he only gives some of it to me. And since the starting conditions are that those who have capital get to do that, and those who don’t do not, is that voluntary on my part, or is it built into the system?

      It’s built into the system. I have at no point claimed that modern capitalists get that way by theft. A lot of famous names did (particularly in America; you think the term “Robber Barons” was pure hyperbole?) but it’s certainly not true of my boss. He got that way by inheritance.

      Yes, you might have to borrow money to get things done. In order to borrow money you`ll have to convince people to lend it to you – I don`t consider this in anyway note worthy.

      … Ok. One more time.

      Starting condition one: maybe 5% of the population control maybe 75% of the money. These figures are soft: given that RBS was technically the largest single-authority economy in the world, by assets (or was before the crash), with an asset value higher than Britain’s GDP (before the crash), I suspect that it’s more like 5% of the population control considerably more money than there actually is in the country.

      Starting condition two: usury is a legally mandated business model.

      Process: I get £100, I pay back typically £150-175. Net flow of money: from me, towards the wealth accumulator.

      Result: money moves from the edge to the centre. That’s capitalism.

      • Mark

        John, I don`t have any problem with collective projects – but say I work for waitrose for 50 years and then leave, I can`t sell my stake – which is something I can do if I`ve run my own business.
        Successfull capitalists have to sponser effective projects. I suppose that`s their useful role in society, if you want to look at it in those ways.

        Money only flows to the centre if the contribution to the project of your human capital is less than the contribution of the money.

        Are you sure *you`re* not a troll?

        Anyway – this really has been engaging, but I`m going to have to declare you the winner (endurance). I really have to give up reading blogs in favour of something a bit more productive. (Hopefully, I`ll even manage to get a bit of accumulation done…) So… I`d like to thank you for an interesting debate and… well..
        take it easy.

        • johnqpublican

          John, I don`t have any problem with collective projects – but say I work for waitrose for 50 years and then leave, I can`t sell my stake – which is something I can do if I`ve run my own business.

          You’re talking as if this was a choice. It is only a choice to a very, very limited set of people. For everyone else, starting their own business is not and never will be an option because their starting conditions did not include a huge pile of cash.

          For everyone else, staring their own business means borrowing, which means someone else will profit from their hard work: it also means they’re more likely to fold, because they have to account for the loan in their pricing, and so on and further. Money moves from the edge to the centre.

          Money only flows to the centre if the contribution to the project of your human capital is less than the contribution of the money.

          Hmmm. No, I don’t see it. Human capital (by which you mean, work?) was mine, is mine, and what I’m seeing is the return on that investment going to someone else. They did nothing to earn it. Over time, they will take from me more than they gave me. Net result, money flows to the centre. I work, they earn.

          Are you sure *you`re* not a troll?

          Dude, this is my blog. How can I troll my own blog?

          Anyway – this really has been engaging, but I`m going to have to declare you the winner (endurance). I really have to give up reading blogs in favour of something a bit more productive. (Hopefully, I`ll even manage to get a bit of accumulation done…) So… I`d like to thank you for an interesting debate and… well.. take it easy.

          Thank you.

          Here’s a prediction for you; in forty years you’re going to be, personally, richer than me. I’d be very surprised if that wasn’t true. I have no idea of the starting conditions; but since my ‘project’ is a not-for-profit social conscience organisation, and yours is getting some accumulation done, I’d say my prediction is fairly safe.