By Elliot Sperber

While gains have certainly been made toward a more inclusive, egalitarian society over the half-century since Martin Luther King delivered his iconic I Have a Dream Speech (as part of the March for Jobs and Justice in Washington, D.C.), in many respects – particularly in economic matters – there has been little or no progress at all. Indeed, by certain measures equality has significantly diminished in the US. Accompanying a minimum wage that, when adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was in 1968, and wages that – except for the wealthy – haven’t risen in decades, the economy has polarized wealth to a greater degree than ever, reducing the economic classes more and more to two – rich and poor – and squeezing the middle and working classes into little more than a memory in the process. In among other places, this lack of change is observable in the fact that it’s five decades later and people are still talking about jobs – coveting jobs as though jobs were those necessities and luxuries that work is obtained to secure.

Notwithstanding this culture of work’s ideological claims to the contrary, jobs are less preconditions for freedom than impediments to freedom’s concrete realization. Beyond consuming most of workers’ waking hours (consuming that which constitutes the precondition for freedom – time), jobs also wreck people’s health, vitiating freedom in the sense of bodily movement as well. Moreover, that people are compelled to work a job – irrespective of the job’s need, or function – demonstrates the consanguinity of jobs and dependency, rather than in-dependency. Some may counter at this point that needing a job is just a natural, unavoidable fact – that people must work to live. But the inordinately excessive amount of time that people devote to work in the US (and capitalist societies in general) is less a natural fact than a cultural one.

Indeed, let us not neglect to consider the fact that when people talk about “good jobs” they are not necessarily discussing the correction of some pressing problem, or providing some truly desired service, or satisfying some actual need. When people discuss “good jobs” they are primarily discussing ways to make money. If one can turn a solid profit selling known carcinogens, such will count as a “good job” – irrespective of the fact that such enterprises wreak far more concrete, objective harm than good.

Contrary to popular opinion, then, people don’t actually need jobs; we work jobs in order to acquire money. And money’s another thing we don’t in truth need – we need those things that this socioeconomic system only provides in exchange for money: food, housing, clothing, etc. Jobs are but a middleman – a means to acquire resources, not an end. Rather than representing any instance of simple irrationality, however, this treatment of jobs as ends, rather than means, reflects the upside-down logic of capital – a rationality contrary to critical reason, for, more often than not, jobs don’t rectify problems so much as they reproduce them.

Another aspect of this that should be pointed out when discussing people’s demands for jobs is that, though owners cannot function without workers’ cooperation, jobs are not extended to workers out of any sense of generosity or concern for the public. To be sure, the public is only valued to the degree that it can be transmuted into the private. Unless a worker’s work brings the owner an amount of money that exceeds the amount that the owner pays the worker, the owner won’t hire anyone at all. This simple, straightforward, arithmetical fact is commonly referred to as “business sense.” For a hire to make “business sense,” an owner will only hire a worker if the owner can derive more value from the worker’s efforts than the owner pays the worker. Another way of saying this is that jobs are exploitative. Workers provide more value to owners than they receive in return. As such, in asking for jobs, people are asking to be exploited – which, by definition, is the opposite of freedom. Of course, as they say, this is just the name of the game. And, as Dolly Parton informs us in her hit song 9 to 5, “it’s a rich man’s game, no matter what they call it – and you spend your life putting money in his wallet.”

This exploitation is not limited to people. To be sure, it is hardly limited by anything at all. Even advocates of capitalist economics admit that capitalism functions by exploiting as much as it can: people, animals, plants, earth, water, etc. All are regarded as materials to be bought and sold, their value reduced to a price – their unique qualities to interchangeable quantities. So-called externalities – wholly preventable harms ranging from ecological devastation caused by such practices as fracking, to preventable occupational and environmental diseases like cancer and asthma, among other concrete, systemic harms – are regarded as little more than inevitable, collateral damage. And though the historical record is replete with examples of unregulated business producing poisonous foods (such as the notorious swill milk), killing workers through negligent and reckless practices, and trashing the ecosystem in order to yield higher profits, contrary to all but blind faith, ideologues of capital insist that it is only through the unimpeded exploitation of the resources of the world that humanity can flourish.

To the extent that it bears on the relationship between freedom and jobs, it is worthwhile to reflect on the political thought of Thomas Jefferson – not because his thought is authoritative, but, rather, because it provides an example of mainstream, if not canonical (i.e., not alien) US political thought on the matter. As Michael Hardt informs us in his Jefferson and Democracy, Thomas Jefferson maintained that a society could not be truly free if its people were not economically independent. Economic independence for Jefferson, it should be stressed, did not mean possessing a job. Having a job simply meant that one was subject to the caprice of one’s employer – that is, not independent. In order to rectify the unequal conditions extant in his home state of Virginia, Jefferson advocated distributing land to (certain) people, enabling them to be independent of others’ power and caprice.

As Hardt informs us, in order to create a democratic society Jefferson’s original draft of the Virginia state constitution included provisions bestowing 50 acres of land to all who did not already possess at least 50 acres. In other words, freedom required that people possess those resources necessary for economic independence; and land was fundamental to this end. People would still have to work the land, of course. But such work is qualitatively different than the alienated variety of labor involved in serving a boss (a word, by the way, derived from the Dutch baas, which means master). Although Jefferson’s thought is marred by, among others, his racist perpetuation of slavery, his misogyny that relegates women to little more than servants and playthings, and his imperialism that seizes the land for his “democratic” distribution from the autochthonous people, one should not throw out all of Jefferson’s babies with his backwards bath water. In spite of his flaws, Jefferson still makes a vital point concerning the relationship between equality and independence. There is a crucial difference between being free, or independent, and having a job. Not only are these diametrically opposed, the above example also highlights the distinction between jobs that are exploitative and meaningful work.

Not jobs, then, but free access to resources is what people need to be free from dependence on others, and equal in any meaningful sense. And though one must work to some degree to maintain these resources, along with one’s standard of living, any work beyond what is necessary or voluntary is inimical to equality. In this respect, it is telling that the ongoing mechanization and automation of agricultural and industrial work (continuing more or less apace since the 17th century) has not resulted in an overall diminution of work. In many respects mechanization has even increased burdens on workers. Though electric lights allow people to see at night, they also enabled the world of work to colonize what once was outside its domain. Though computers may drastically increase productivity, this increase is not accompanied by any corresponding diminution in work. The demands only increase. To be sure, one would imagine that an egalitarian society would employ these technologies in a manner that would create less work, not more. And in the 1930s, people thought just that – that the mechanization of production would lead to a three day work week. This was the goal of the more critical factions of the labor movement: not jobs, but the elimination of jobs and the development of a just society. Needless to say, such has not transpired. People are working more than ever – producing, it should be added, largely toxic products.

Whether these are the toxic plastics that are polluting the world, or the toxic financial instruments that are further enriching the 1%, the toxic food industry, or the unnecessary advertisements inducing people to buy this garbage, it is an economic fact that people are working more “productively” than ever, while earning less and less. Not only are people less free to relax and rest, and less free from stress – among other occupational and environmental diseases – the pollution from our incessant work is increasingly destroying our natural environment as well. Every way you cut it, jobs do not bring freedom so much as they preclude it.

Not only should jobs, then, be recognized for what they are – means, not ends – an emancipatory politics should work toward creating fewer, not more, jobs. Though a just society requires the presence of certain conditions – the conditions of health, for instance – a just political-economy would create these conditions directly, as a social priority, not as a more or less incidental outcome of profiteering. Because they are rooted in exploitation, and inextricable from the harms they spread, jobs for the sake of jobs are simply obstacles to conditions of health – such as equality, peace, housing, nutrition, etc. As such, they should be retired. By itself, however, this does not adequately respond to the question concerning how the multitude’s daily needs will be met; if we transition to a political-economy that eliminates millions of jobs that serve no salutary purpose, how will the unemployed and underemployed pay the rent? Distributing 50 acres of land to every person, as Jefferson suggested, is obviously not practicable today. A simple solution – one advocated, by the way, by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1967 book Where Do We Go from Here – would be by adopting a basic income law.

Unlike a guaranteed minimum income, or a minimum wage, a basic income is not contingent on work. Basic income laws (such as the one the Swiss people are presently debating) provide that each person receives an income sufficient to live well irrespective of whether or not s/he is employed. While a basic income law still presupposes a commodity economy, and is therefore not desirable in the long term, in the short term the implementation of a basic income would not only free people from poverty, it would allow humanity to dismantle harmful industries and institutions without compromising the well-being of those presently dependent on these industries for survival. In freeing people from destructive labor, implementation of a basic income would open space necessary for rest and recovery from the present abusive political-economy, all the while creating conditions that would support the development of an actual politics (as opposed to the semblance of politics – the political theater – that we are subjected to today). In other words, a basic income law would allow for a transition from our present-day war economy to an actually just, economically democratic, peace economy. If we are to overcome the contemporary barbarism presently determining our lives, we must recognize that our “job” requires creating the conditions necessary for collective and individual well-being directly. This can be accomplished – not, however, by creating more, but by creating fewer, jobs.

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17 comments
Christopher Cornette
Christopher Cornette

So the idea is not to work but to get income? Ideas like this would bankrupt the occupy movement now and all of society later. I remember when the Soviet Union fell it was because there was no toilet paper to buy. If nobody works who would make the basic things we need. Utopia is what you are talking about here and because of human frailties and imperfections that will not happen on earth. Wether you know it or not there were the 1% in communist Russia. There will always be a 1% wherever you go on earth. It is human nature the same that you try to dismiss. If we distributed all the wealth in the world equally right now, how long before there will be the 1% again? I say 150 years as my guess, but do this mental exercise and you can see that to stay true to the cause the cause must be reasonable. Let's stay focused on crony capitalist, corrupt labor unions, and bankrupt politicians. P. S. Get to work.

MerlinBlack
MerlinBlack

I suppose I'm a bit confused as to the practical workings of a basic income law. My wife and I are both employed, and contribute meaningful services to society. In exchange for those services, we receive paychecks, which, though digital, represent Dollars. These Dollars, as a fiat currency, represent debt, or a claim check on society. We don't work because we enjoy it; to the contrary, we work with the goal in mind of not having to do so. We work to get those claim checks on society's goods and services so we can do the things we enjoy, such as rock climbing, hiking, traveling, etc. We save nearly $60k a year at our present rate, which is a large portion of our take-home. Had I no need to work to get those claim checks, I'm not clear on why I would do so. I have no need or want to live "high and large" as it were. I just work to gain financial security so I can do the things I want to (and not have to work once I've accumulated enough claim checks). I'm reasonably sure that many Black Diamond employees (one of the makers of rock climbing gear I use to safely climb said rocks) would likely feel the same way. Those assumptions established, how is it that my needs, or Black Diamond's needs, will be met? If I've no need to work, others will go without my skills in computer networking. If Black Diamond employees have no need to work, I will go without their engineering and manufacturing skills, resulting in me not having access to their goods that I rely on for my primary hobby. When this process continues to its logical conclusion, we move beyond "luxuries" such as my hobbies, to things like food, potable water, and housing maintenance no longer being incentivized. Are you implicitly suggesting a return to agrarian society? One without antibiotics, transportation, vaccinations, and surgery? If so, how does that work in a practical sense? Do we start bulldozing cities? If not, how do I put food, let alone climbing gear, on the table? I don't write this to be critical; I'm genuinely curious how it's proposed that this works. Clearly I'm missing something.

schrapnel
schrapnel

Spot on. Best thing I've read in a long time and a view I have been in agreement with for awhile.

rcsmith
rcsmith

With all due respect, I think you've deduced entirely the wrong conclusions. I recommend you read my comment above and also read a little more on economic/social alternatives posted here and elsewhere. The idea that we have either capitalist labour cycles or Soviet Communism is archaic and not at all founded. Likewise, the idea that we could transcend 'jobs' as presently conceived does not necessarily mean people don't work. Again, these are rather archaic distinctions just as your position that we will always have social hierarchies (i.e., 1%) because that is somehow bound to an abstract universalisation (i.e., a perception of human nature that is largely conditioned by capitalism).

rcsmith
rcsmith

I really appreciate your comment. The questions you posit are honest, thoughtful and important, and circumscribe different issues I’ve been thinking about lately as well. For me, I would argue that one of the most important reasons for the possible implementation of the basic income law is that it would free a lot of people from having to work meaningless, part-time jobs in often very destructive and highly-exploitative industries (consider fast-food work, for example). If the basic income law were for instance set at £10,000 per year to start with, it would mostly affect what is presently classified as ‘low income earners’, helping to alleviate their financial pressure and the burden of the oppressive cycle of cheap labour. As Elliot points out, the basic income law would still presuppose a market-style economy. Practically speaking, I think if it was to be implemented tomorrow in the present-political economy as a systematic step in the transitory process of reconceptualising our modern political-economy, a lot of people who do enjoy their jobs and their work probably wouldn’t suddenly stop. I imagine others might take that basic income to help finance a degree or support a career change. If someone wanted to spend a few years exploring art-making, or wanted to take a year off because they feel they need the rest emotionally or physically – or if someone has an interest they want to pursue in science or in horticulture or astrology or dedicate time to social enterprises or to protesting or whatever - the opportunity would be more readily available. The basic income law essentially alleviates the cycle of economic coercion rampant in contemporary capitalist societies - it helps free people from the coercive and oppressive practice of having to work an fulfilling, existentially meaningless job simply to make ends meet (which is precisely the Order that capitalism creates to sustain itself). I think you’re next question has to do not so much with the basic income law but with what might an alternative political-economy look like, wherein as you wonderfully reflective: “I just work to gain financial security so I can do the things I want to (and not have to work once I've accumulated enough claim checks). I'm reasonably sure that many Black Diamond employees (one of the makers of rock climbing gear I use to safely climb said rocks) would likely feel the same way. Those assumptions established, how is it that my needs, or Black Diamond's needs, will be met? If I've no need to work, others will go without my skills in computer networking. If Black Diamond employees have no need to work, I will go without their engineering and manufacturing skills, resulting in me not having access to their goods that I rely on for my primary hobby.” I think the question you’re encircling here cannot be answer by the basic income law, because that’s not the purpose of said law. The basic income law would be a support in the historical transition toward a more just political-economy. In order to answer your question, we would need to look to alternative economic systems presently being formulated, such as worker self-directed enterprises, economic democracy, participatory economics, etc. Of course, these all again presuppose a market-style economy, while other, typically more abstract formulations that have yet to really provide any concrete formulations and structures, campaign for more communist-styled systems. In a participatory economic system, you would still hypothetically have “Black Diamond” as a company, wherein people interested in rock climbing come together to produce rock climbing gear as a democratic (i.e., non-hierarchical, etc.) workers co-op. People interested in making honey or video games or tools or windows or whatever would likely do the same. However, a participatory economy would be orientated not toward surplus but rather driven on the basis of social enterprise. I think the biggest mistake – and it is quite a common one – is to think of historical progress (i.e., certain technological advancements, medicine, transportation, etc.) as being necessarily limited to the horizon of capitalism. To argue toward a reconceptualising of the political-economy doesn’t mean a return to agrarian society. I think I can speak for everyone at the organisation, when I say that this is not the aim. I would argue that the point is actually to ensure social progress continues as a historical aim, because in more ways than one we’re presently losing sight of what ‘social progress’ is on behalf of fetishism and the idea of ‘surplus’ (see, for instance, http://www.heathwoodpress.com/social-change-you-forum/ ). How many millions of people in the U.S. live below the poverty line and don’t have access to healthcare? How many millions of youth in the EU don’t have equal opportunity or are not allowed the right to a healthy, happy future and to pursue their interests and passions? To be 'free from jobs' doesn't necessarily mean to be free from work, from creating and contributing toward society and 'historical social progress'. To conclude otherwise is more so to see things purely within a capitalist horizon. If we allowed ourselves to be idealists for just a moment, one could argue that an alternative society would be even more creative, more open to creation and social enterprise and socially meaningful work - and all within a non-coercive, non-dominant social context. There are lots of examples, even today in the midst of a highly alienated social world, of people carving out alternative spaces that evidence the basics for an alternative political-economy that's creative, inspiring and humane. (This is in reply to your second comment below about how 'many things aren't readily accomplished without the use of bureaucracy', when so much evidence points to the contrary, In my own studies on alternatives, for example, I have seen nothing that honestly justifies this claim). Your passion for rock climbing doesn't need to be seen as a “luxury”, I think this is again another common misconception. To move beyond capitalism doesn'’t mean to move back to the Stone Age or to simply live for basic necessities – again this would defeat the notion of ‘social historical progress’. Your interest in rock climbing is not dependent on capitalist political-economy. In fact, one could argue the opposite. Just as my interest in painting, which I would love to do more of, is not dependent on capitalism providing me the opportunity to be able to paint - it’s actually quite the contrary. In turn, what I think you’re picking up on in your reflections (I could be wrong?) is what I consider to be the utmost fundamental and pressing question when considering any sort of alternative society or political-economy: namely that if capitalism, as a system that functions on behalf of in-direct domination, emerged in history as an alternative to systems of direct domination, how do we formulate a truly progressive and emancipatory alternative that is non-dominating without reproducing direct systems of domination? If any potential alternative cannot answer this question, it means that said alternative is void. In your search, I recommend you read a few of our past and forthcoming papers on alternative economics and social systems, because they may help fill in some of the blank spots. In closing, and in return to the basic income law, I’ll comment on just one more thing: the idea that, if people are not forced or coerced to work then nothing will ever get done is what I would call an ideological distinction. It’s ideological in the sense that this perception is conditioned on the basis of capitalist economics (and henceforth social relations) and its (false) universalisation of ‘human nature’ (i.e., that people are lazy and need coercing). On the other hand, the biggest mistake I think the people of Switzerland are making when it comes to the implementation of the basic income law is 1) it’s too low to make any real impact (about 2,500 francs per adult per annum) and 2) they’ve not identified the need for social support networks such as universal therapy (i.e., state funded therapy), different social programmes like mentorships or community learning facilities, etc. to help support people in the transition from a highly coercive capitalist system. As I've said elsewhere, change is multidimensional every alternative social policy must take into account a multidimensional and integrative perspective. If people are suddenly freed from the oppressive daily cycle of capitalist labour and have the opportunity to pursue their own interests, this can actually be a difficult thing to work through and process emotionally. I don’t think the Swiss have really considered the psychological and emotional impact, which could prove to be a mistake. Best, Robert

MerlinBlack
MerlinBlack

I'd also like to add that many things aren't readily accomplished without the use of bureaucracy. No single person, on their own, is likely to be able to create climbing gear, let alone something like a space program. I read about an interesting project a few years back, where a man decided he wanted to make a toaster. He spent a great deal of time and effort learning everything involved in making a toaster, from mining the ore, to the resulting refining and processing, to the intricacies of heating elements, etc. He's probably the only person in the world who honestly knows how to make a toaster, start to finish. What's your replacement for bureaucracy?

rcsmith
rcsmith

It will be interesting to see what happens in Switzerland regarding the potential implementation of a basic income law. From what I recall, it's not much to begin (something like 2,500 francs for every adult). But it is definitely worth monitoring, as it's a good step in the process of a fundamental reconceptualising of the political-economy.

Christopher Cornette
Christopher Cornette

Define capitalism. Then define human nature. My guess is that you are giving humans too much credit. The human will always be an individual first before he is part of a group and within that group he will stay an individual. You spoke of coercion before but can you really coerce someone's thoughts? Were you not a teenager once who though that your parents were misguided in their attempts to manipulate your life? Hierarchies will always exist because with people there are leaders and followers, sheep and foxes. You have a vision and I think I would like your vision but for the fact that it can't be. There is no utopia on earth.

Christopher Cornette
Christopher Cornette

To replace economic coercion by receiving a "basic income"you would become a victim of political coercion. Nothing is for free. You would be swapping one master for another.

rcsmith
rcsmith

I would like to suggest, politely and respectively, that your readings here of 'human nature', hierarchy and capitalism are highly questionable. The notion that "human will always be an individual first before he is part of a group and within that group he will stay an individual" is firstly a capitalist phenomenon, and secondly not at all evidenced when considering the countless alternatives that do presently exist in the world, wherein individual-collective coincide and work dialectically. I'm afraid you're confusing the 'self' with the sort of 'pseudo-individualism' that is common in American capitalism and which Adorno so wonderfully critiques. Secondly, hierarchies and social inequality are not a law of nature. Again, not only does this go against the countless extent alternatives. I can think of numerous communities, alternative workplaces, alternative education facilities, alternative economies, alternative collectives and political movements (ranging from workers co-ops in the U.S. to Summerhill and Alpha Project schools, to different transitional communities in the U.K., etc. etc.) that completely contradict your assertions and evidence non-hierarchical, non-dominant, mutually recognitive forms of collectivity wherein the individual works through the collective inasmuch as the collective works through the individual. Moreover, what you've done is what Adorno would identify as one of the most fundamental problems today: the ideological misconception, which essentially takes social injustice as a product of coercive society (or 'bad society') and universalises it as a law of nature. On the one hand, not only does this displace the crisis of capitalism and blames some ungrounded, abstract law of human nature but it entirely fails to see the systemic context of social injustice, inequality and violence. In this respect, I would argue that you're falling completely on the wrong side of the debate.

rcsmith
rcsmith

Again, deducing entirely the wrong conclusions. The basic income law would not replace economic coercion in its entirety. As I wrote above, it would help alleviate some of the coercive pressure. Just as is being debated in Switzerland, the basic income law *is* transitional (i.e., a transitory step). What ultimately needs to happen is a reconceptualising of the political economy - the basic income law is not meant to do this, but is in essence meant to help free 'low income earners' from oppressive cycles of law-wage, highly exploitative work for often very destructive industries (i.e., fast-food, for example). To be free from "jobs" (as presently conceived) doesn't mean to be free from work, from creation, from existential projects, etc. The basic income law, as being debated in Switzerland is only 2,500 francs per annum per adult. In a better case scenario it would be more. But it's meant to act as a support, coupled with increasing social opportunity so people could follow their own interests, work in areas they want or pursue their own existential projects.

Christopher Cornette
Christopher Cornette

You don't have to be so cordial. I agree to disagree. You are young and handsome and have an idealist view that I had once but with experience had to be put aside. You may think that is sad but don't. Just get back to me in 20 years. Good luck.

Christopher Cornette
Christopher Cornette

I understand your conclusions and it would be nice if it could work. I am putting it into a macro environment while I think your idea rests in a micro. For instance, you would not have the existence of fast food restaurants because of the coercion they put on workers but have you been to the farm that supplies your local health food store? Who picks those fruits and veggies and how much is he paid? So we incentivize that picker to work in a job he really wants, and then nobody wants to pick in hot field for a low wage. So the farmer raises the wage to three times as much to attract workers. Then the food costs twice as much. Then back to square one where "basic income" is not basic enough anymore. Or maybe your idea is to have each one of us grow and catch our own food to survive. Yea the was a very successful time called the Stone Age.

rcsmith
rcsmith

First, allow me to extend my appreciation once again for your thoughts and comments; I think we've opened up a fascinating debate about issues that extend beyond the purpose of Elliot's paper. For this reason, I would like to invite you to engage with a forthcoming paper of mine, which I've written in light of our exchange. Secondly, allow me one last comment: I don't mean to be forceful. However, this is just the type of 'hardening' that Adorno was so right to highlight in his critique. It is not idealist to argue toward the awareness of the horrible effects that 'coercive social conditions have on people' and to suggest that we ought to work toward implementing alternatives, toward understanding a foundational critique of modern and historic society, violence, domination, inequality (etc.) and potential alternatives. On the other hand, what is precisely mythical about today's thinking is how: instead of identifying socio-historical forces of systemic domination, one displaces the crisis of capitalism, a critique of the fundamental regularities found within the historic genesis of 'coercive society' (etc.) and employs a positivist ideology that blames (abstract notions of) unalterable laws (i.e., what is "mythical in both myth and enlightenment is the thought that fundamental change is impossible ../ Such resistance to change characterizes both ancient myths of fate and modern devotion to the facts” Horkheimer, Adorno 2002)). One can displace the source of needless social suffering, inequality, injustice and blame an abstract theory of human nature, but this is the worst type of defeatism and precisely the type of psychology that manifests within and supports the continuation of 'bad society'. It is just the opposite that is needed today, to expose the systemic context of needless social suffering, domination, coercion, oppression, inequality - i.e., determinate negation - and contemplate, in the words of Adorno, the redemption of life from the basis of the negative - "not as dystopia but as the living, historical theory and praxis of determinately negating that which causes the suffering and destruction of humanity and nature" (Ott, 2013). I appreciate the fact that we're all left to hope in the midst of hopelessness, and I can ensure you that I am anything but an idealist when it comes to the possibilities of a better world in the future. Many say - perhaps ironically? - that I am far too skeptical and pessimistic. But “in the end hope, wrested from reality by negating it, is the only form in which truth appears. Without hope, the idea of truth would be scarcely even thinkable …” [Adorno 1974:98]. Regards, Robert

rcsmith
rcsmith

I understand what you're saying and I understand that you have a fundamental mistrust of human beings, which I think is more of a systemic problem because in contemporary (neo-liberal) capitalist society we adopt a fundamental mistrust of other people: "neoliberalism views human beings as free in spite of one another, whereas in alternative and 'mutually recognitive' spaces individuals are free in and through one another" (Gunn/Wilding; hence my earlier comments in response to what I can only deem is a sort of pseudo-individualistic view of reality). This is, in other words, quite a socially conditioned view (if I may say). Nevertheless, the existence of fast-food restaurants, to be clear, is a result of the modern political-economy. As Elliot writes elsewhere, in a more sane political-economy we would be working toward banishing such ecocidal practice. But this is beside the point, I think once again you're falling victim to the idea that if people aren't coerced into working, into contributing to society, then no one will do anything. As Adorno would say, "in a better society I would happily pick-up the rubbish and sweep the streets". The point is that in a socially driven society - in other words, one not driven toward profit - there is still work. In fact, one could argue that there is even more creativity to be found in the concept of 'work' than any capitalist society could ever glimpse. In terms of the individual who picks fruit and veg, to be fair the modern agricultural system is unsustainable and I suspect that in a more just political-economy we would see a reconceptualisation of agricultural practice that could 1) still meet the needs of people and 2) have more emphasis on local goods, community gardens, etc. Does an alternative to capitalism mean a return to agrarian society? I've already answered this in a previous comment: to suggest that an alternative implies a return to the Stone Age is unfounded and again a typical misconception. Historical, social progress isn't limited to the capitalist horizon. "Who picks those fruits and veggies and how much is he paid? So we incentivize that picker to work in a job he really wants, and then nobody wants to pick in hot field for a low wage. So the farmer raises the wage to three times as much to attract workers." I recommend again that you read more about social and economic alternatives before drawing false conclusions. With regards to participatory economic model, for example, this question is answered on a macro level. Just because capitalism has been transcended, doesn't mean that people won't be working and creating, farming and building - advancing society. To say otherwise, is evidence of ideology. As to your last formulations, I think you'll find that you're working solely within neoclassical economics and that, given the many alternative economic theories, you're once again deducing false conclusions.

schrapnel
schrapnel

Very invigorating comments Robert. In complete agreement. Great comment about "...a positivist ideology that blames (abstract notions of) unalterable laws..." This is a huge issue as I see it with getting through to people.

rcsmith
rcsmith

Thanks. I share your emphasis on the importance of a critique of positivism in this regard. M. Ott makes several nice comments around a critique of positivist thought in relation to a number of issues, you may want to check it out: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/somethings-missing-study-dialectic-utopia-theories-theodor-w-adorno-ernst-bloch/ (If you don't want to read the whole paper, just search for his discussion on positivism). Also, I just published the following paper as a follow-up to Elliot's piece and my comments above. I'd be curious to get your thoughts: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/basic-income-law-economic-democracy-participatory-economics-importance-commons-21st-century-thoughts-alternative-philosophy-social-change/ Hope all is well Robert