Posts Tagged ‘theory

03
Apr
10

Live Long and Prosper?

If you were to look up “Communism” in a philosophy book, you’d probably find it under a section dealing with “Materialism”. The problem with this is that the popular meaning of the word “Materialism” has changed radically over the years. In terms of philosophy, the original meaning of “Materialism” was a category of philosophies primarily concerned with the concepts of property and their effects on human society/history. If I were, however, to use the term “Materialist” today, it would commonly be assumed that I was referring to the idea that the end goal of life is to accumulate wealth (radical hedonism, essentially). This is a recurring problem with many terms connected to Communism- in Marx’s day, “Socialism” meant a society embracing shared property and rejecting the class system, today we use it to refer to a politico-economic system where the majority of property is owned and managed by a massive government- but perhaps that’s off topic.

The issue with trying to categorize Communism in philosophy is that Marx was rather critical of philosophy as a whole. He asserted that analyzing the world should not be an end but merely a means to bring about change and advancement (“Philosophers have merely interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it!” -Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach”). While Communism definitely does offer a socio-politico-economic perspective, to claim that Communism is an all-out philosophy wouldn’t be quite correct. While most philosophies make some basic assumptions about the purpose of life (hedonism, as much pleasure as possible; Socratic philosophy, preparing for death;  aesthetic realism, finding harmony in life; the list goes on and on), Communism on the other hand functions more like a scientific theory than a code of ethics or an understanding of existence (indeed, one of the reason people find Marx so hard to read is the fact that he treats economics almost like a branch of physics). Don’t misunderstand me- Marx did have convictions. He saw the exploitation of the proletariat as the principal factor in the toppling of Capitalism and the class system and believed that the toppling of the Capitalism and the class system would propagate justice and equality. It’s like a scientist discovering that running electricity through a gas filled bulb not only creates light but it is his moral imperative to run electricity through a gas filled bulb and create light. As a result of all this, you’ll find no single, coherent Communist philosophy but rather a number of philosophies espousing Communist political theory. On one side you have philanthropic, altruistic humanist communists who have become Communist out of love for their fellow man. On the other side you have cynical and bitter antisocial communists who have become Communist out of a belief in morality rather than man (the author falls into this category). And between these two extremes you’ll find any number of other philosophies- religious Communism, green Communism, Anarcho-Communism, etc. If there’s a mainstream philosophy out there, you’d be safe to bet that there’s a Communist version of it (baring, perhaps, Ayn Rand-style Objectivism).

Now one might argue that the exact same rules apply to Capitalism. “Capitalism is a socio-economic theory too. You can hold any philosophy or worldview and still be a Capitalist!”.

Now this is partly true. You can indeed be a Capitalist and hold the purpose in life to protect and preserve the earth and all its natural wonders. The problem is that if you also accept Capitalism, you have to maintain that it is perfectly legal (and indeed, a basic human right) to purchase a mountain, to prevent anyone else from walking on it, and if the owner so chooses, to blow it to pieces.

“Alright, so Environmentalism and Capitalism don’t mesh so well- but there’s still a ton of other philosophies out there.”

Absolutely, and they too don’t seem to mesh well with Capitalism. If you hold the purpose of life is to live honestly and decently, then you’re presented with a number of challenges (the primary of which is that in Capitalism, the highest profits come from underpaying and overworking your employees and overpricing your products- not exactly honest or decent, is it?). If you declare that the end goal in life is to live long and prosper and see your family happy and secure then you have to deal with the fact that this is the wish of not only you but a large percent of humanity and since in Capitalism there’s only so much room at the top you’ll have to viciously compete with your neighbors for this lifestyle (unless you’re born into it, in which case you just have to worry about the huddled masses eying your house and pool. Even if you believe that the sole purpose of live is to live in decadence and luxury, you have to contend with the very definitions of the words. Do two houses in Monaco count as decadence and luxury, or should you get a yacht as well (or more importantly, will you be any more happy and fulfilled with the yacht than you are now?).

So essentially, no matter what your philosophy is, it has to be accepted that in all likelihood, you’d be able to pursue it better in a society free from Capitalism. You want peace and happiness for your family? Maybe you should opt for a system where a starving homeless man is going to gun down your wife/husband for her/his necklace/wallet. You want to be able to do whatever you love doing? Maybe you should opt for a system where you aren’t forced to take whatever job pays the bills, no matter how painful or bland. You want to be able learn everything there is to know about a subject? Maybe you should opt for a system where education is a high-priced commodity available only to some.

Maybe you should opt for Communism.

18
Feb
10

The Trickle-Down Theory

Though it the term originated in the 1930s, the “Trickle-Down Theory” has come into increasing use over the past year (largely due to the global financial meltdown). Essentially, the theory holds that by cutting taxes on the wealthy and/or allocating wealth to the upper classes, the money they save will be spent on luxury items that will provide work and profits to the middle class, who in turn will buy products that provide work and profits to the working class.

Obviously, this theory is complete and utter tripe.

Firstly, the theory is based on the assumption that the items the wealthy buy will somehow benefit the middle-class. In reality however, when an oil tycoon buys a diamond necklace for his wife, he isn’t benefiting anyone. If he walks into a store to buy the necklace, is he somehow benefitting the clerk behind the counter? Of course not- her wages are the same whether or not he buys anything. The profits of the sale go to the diamond magnates who own the store. In short, the wealthy get wealthier- the middle class simply facilitates the process.

Now you might say, “Hey, doesn’t the oil tycoon’s purchase help the middle-class? Without customers, the store couldn’t operate and the clerk would be out of a job! And if the clerk is out of a job, she isn’t going to be able to spend money and produce profit for the working class!”. Now that’s partly true- but only partly. The clerk’s job does depend on the store being successful, however, let’s look at the big picture. If the store is already running, then it has enough business to provide the job. Whether the tycoon has a few extra thousand dollars isn’t going to make the slightest difference. Again, you might argue “But an increase in the demand for diamonds means that more diamonds must be mined, producing work and profits for the proletariat!”. Again, this is only partly true. Now if there was a massive increase in the demand for diamonds (and let’s face it, it’s not like diamonds wear out and need to be bought by the dozen), there would indeed be more work for the proletariat. There’d be more work, not more profit. The owners of the mines can simply increase the workload- they have no reason to increase wages. Unionizing? The majority of the world’s diamonds are mined in third world countries where (1) unionizers can be beaten, tortured, or killed and where (2) the general populace is so poor they’ll take whatever wages they can get. In short, an increase in wealth for the wealthy does not equate an increase in wealth for the entire social system.

Ok, maybe that isn’t entirely true. There are certain (rare) situations in which the trickle-down theory seems to work (which brings us to the second issue). Imagine a wealthy man decides to build a sports stadium- the advocates of the trickle-down theory will argue that this will provide jobs and profits for the local community. Now this will in fact provide jobs- as food vendors and janitors. Whatever extra money they have will be spent on things too insignificant to boost the community out of poverty. I wouldn’t call that “benefiting” the working class anymore than I would call a dew-drop in the Sahara a “water-supply”.

Now I’ve stated that the origin of the term “trickle-down theory” originated in the 30s- but the actual practice has been going on since the beginning of time. It’s what they used to do with hunting dogs. Sic them on rabbits and, after the dogs catches the prey, they wait patiently under the table while the master eats the meat. When the master’s done, he throws the scraps to them. Now it might work for dogs, but if you treat a human like an animal, then it is only a matter of time before he becomes one- and an animal and has no issue with ripping your throat out.