Replies to the "but the owner bought the tools" argument?

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spacious
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Aug 21 2018 07:31

Yeah I read someone saying once Marx never wrote a single line about cities, and I can't say I disagree. The theory of rent in Marx is entirely about agriculture, which seems like an odd oversight - what about rent in an urban setting, rent for industrial purposes, housing rent etc.?

I've had some interesting discussions with Georgists on twitter about land as a resource, in economic theory etc. and about the different ways of envisioning social revolution or reform in that area.

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Aug 21 2018 14:23

Thanks for your reply jura

Don't we need to morally justify the socialist expropriation of the capitalist class?

Is the justification that the expropriation will make the problems that you list (for example waste of human labour power) dissappear?

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Aug 21 2018 15:09
explainthingstome wrote:
Don't we need to morally justify the socialist expropriation of the capitalist class?

Is the justification that the expropriation will make the problems that you list (for example waste of human labour power) dissappear?

I don't think I've seen a moral argument justifying the expropriation of capitalists per se, but since the 1970s/1980s there has been a lot of discussions in Anglophone political philosophy on the morality of property (and of interventions against property), including contributions by various leftists. So I'm sure there exists some such argument. But personally I think discussions about the moral justification of private property (or its expropriation) are mostly an academic thing with little use beyond that. They also often start from "self-evident" premises such as that there is a universal right to private property, which kind of makes the whole effort circular and pointless.

The orthodox "amoral" (or almost amoral) justification for expropriation was that capitalist relations of production have become a fetter on the development of the forces of production, and so expropriating the capitalist class is justified as a necessary condition for further historical progress. I don't think this is a good justification because it starts with an assumption I don't agree with (I think capitalism still can and does develop forces of production, albeit at the expense of some very destructive consequences, but this has been true of capitalism from the start). It also does not seem to be too useful in convincing people to do something (I mean who apart from 18th and 19th century philosophers really cares about "historical progress"?).

I also think that ultimately, "at the very bottom", there are some normative (moral) assumptions behind the communist project and also behind Marx's critique (in Capital). Obviously every (libertarian) communist will say that it's better if individuals can fully realize their potential than if they're enslaved. It's better if all people have more free time. Obviously Marx thought it's better if children don't work 10 hours a day in dangerous conditions etc. etc. These are all normative assumptions (and there were also actual people in Marx's time who were prepared to defend child labor in dangerous conditions in moral terms!). They also have something to do with human needs and with a particular (philosophical) notion of what is a human being. I'd say that at bottom, the argument for communism is based on assumptions like these which are at odds with the consequences of capitalism listed in one of the posts above. So I agree with your answer in the form of a question – doing away with capitalism will do away with its consequences which are in conflict with our (normative) notion of how humans should be able to live their lives.

DevastateTheAvenues
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Aug 21 2018 16:48
explainthingstome wrote:
Don't we need to morally justify the socialist expropriation of the capitalist class?

Is the justification that the expropriation will make the problems that you list (for example waste of human labour power) dissappear?

I would say that a moral justification is not the point. Rather, communism, as "the real movement to abolish the present state of things", is something borne out of the struggles of the working class against their alienation (our creative force is ultimately put to the service of another, doing things for the sake of profit rather than for the act itself or directly for the things the act does or produces) and exploitation (and that profit belongs to some capitalist fucker while my own means of living are gradually eroded away) under capitalism.

It it not necessarily because I have a clear vision of what I want in some post-capitalist future, but that I must struggle right here and now if I want to make my position under capitalism better, say in my wages or in my time spent working versus my actual life, and that this puts my into conflict against the capitalist class. In time, once I start seeing that capitalism imposes these political conditions on me and on other workers, I come to realize my common interest with those other workers in struggling against our common political condition of our dispossession of everything but our labor that puts us at the mercy of capitalism--in short, our proletarian status. This turns our conflict into a political conflict, a class conflict. And once we understand that our alienation and exploitation cannot end under capitalism, our class struggle becomes a revolutionary one against capitalism. The future is opaque and unknowable and, while we might have our guesses and wants, the society that comes after capitalism will only be made in the process of that struggle, in the act of revolution against all existing social conditions.

Of course, following jura, this does entail certain normative assumptions, namely that alienation and exploitation are experienced as bad things and that this provides sufficient motive force to struggle against capitalism. This also makes it important that we see alienation as something to abolish; if we are merely concerned with the "economic" side of things, in exploitation, then we have no reason to be against, say, self-managed exploitation (various kinds of market socialism) or even against a society that sufficiently provides us with the means to live. Even if we were able to manage our own work, if we still produce to create profit rather than directly for what we need and want, we still relate to ourselves and others only via production and exchange, and our relations between people retain the appearance of being relations between things (commodity fetishism) because of the continued necessity of controlling our lives and labor to satisfy the need to produce exchangeable value, commodities, in a society where access to exchangeable value provides the means of living.

Re the OP post, I would say that it's incredibly important to realize that, while labor does create surplus value, profit is only realized via exchange. This makes it easier to grasp that the value of a commodity does not depend on the particular labor used up on it, because it is in the necessarily social act of exchange that all particular labors are equated as quantities of abstract labor and that the value of the commodity becomes the value of its socially necessary labor time to produce it.

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Aug 23 2018 11:35
Mike Harman wrote:
There are things about land which do have value - i.e. improvements like sewerage, irrigation, running water, electricity, access to roads, and buildings themselves are commodities. So the payment of rent incorporates both paying for these commodities, but also for the use of the actual unimproved land itself, which is not a commodity (because it's not the product of social labour).

Well yes. But also this:

Mike Harman wrote:
However Marx is talking about ground rent as it gets extracted from capitalist farmers leasing from landowners, he's not talking about people renting flats in Manchester.

An element of the rent on a flat will be ground rent but most of it won't be that, it is a payment for the use of the building...

Edgar Hardcastle wrote:
Marx’s theory of rent sets out to explain that under capitalism, landed property is a source of unearned income going to the landlord by claiming a right over a portion of surplus value.

Surplus value is extracted from the working class during the productive process.

http://www.socialiststudies.org.uk/marx%20groundrent.shtml

Note, nothing about "secondary exploitation". Surplus value is created in production, not exchange, and is then distributed among various different capitals via the mechanism of the market.

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Aug 23 2018 11:54
explainthingstome wrote:
Don't we need to morally justify the socialist expropriation of the capitalist class?

Think of it the other way around. Can we morally justify the capitalist expropriation of the wealth created by the working class?

Mike Harman
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Aug 23 2018 12:02
darren p wrote:
An element of the rent on a flat will be ground rent but most of it won't be that, it is a payment for the use of the building...

Well yes, but rent on a two bed house in Middlesborough is about £500/month and rent on a two bed flat in Islington is about £1500-2500/month. Land value is pretty unique compared to actual commodities. But I think the argument that rents make up part of the cost of reproduction, and therefore the MCM' capitalist ends up paying more in wages, which then goes straight out again to the landlord, is a way of explaining this without some kind of double surplus gymnastics.

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Aug 23 2018 13:01
darren p wrote:
Think of it the other way around. Can we morally justify the capitalist expropriation of the wealth created by the working class?

Well, the capitalist enables production because he owns the tools and stuff.

"But that's only because private property exists", you might argue. But what's wrong with private property? Why shouldn't I be allowed to own the land and tools that I've bought? Why should I be forced to give away my private property to society as a whole?

(Has this argument already been countered in this thread without me realizing it?)

Also, the world has become much better over the last 100 years. Capitalism is making everyone richer and happier. Extreme poverty will dissappear in a few decades. Soon everyone will be educated and well-payed.

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Aug 23 2018 13:23
explainthingstome wrote:
Also, the world has become much better over the last 100 years. Capitalism is making everyone richer and happier. Extreme poverty will dissappear in a few decades. Soon everyone will be educated and well-payed.

Are you familiar with Thomas Pogge? He makes good arguments against this kind of thing, but in favour of a more re-distributive type of capitalism. Communists can make some use of his arguments I think - but also argue that the structural nature of capitalism makes some things impossible, the types of reforms Pogge argues for being amongst them.

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Aug 23 2018 14:03
explainthingstome wrote:
darren p wrote:
Think of it the other way around. Can we morally justify the capitalist expropriation of the wealth created by the working class?

Well, the capitalist enables production because he owns the tools and stuff.

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Aug 23 2018 23:54
explainthingstome wrote:
"But that's only because private property exists", you might argue. But what's wrong with private property? Why shouldn't I be allowed to own the land and tools that I've bought? Why should I be forced to give away my private property to society as a whole?

(Has this argument already been countered in this thread without me realizing it?)

As I said, I'd generally try to avoid this debate on justifying property, but there's the "genealogical" argument on primitive accumulation: capitalist property has its ultimate origin in the expropriation of independent agricultural producers. Their private property (and/or communal property) had to be expropriated by future capitalists (and the state) to make way for capitalism. If that was justified, then why shouldn't the expropriation of capitalists be justified? And if it wasn't justified, then capitalist private property itself is illegitimate, so expropriating it shouldn't be such a big deal, morally.

One possible justification for primitive accumulation is that it resulted in a more efficient economic system (in the sense of increasing, in the long term, the standard of living for most; alhough in the case of capitalism, the long term was very long term as there was a pretty long period when people in Britain were actually worse off in capitalism in terms of their average real consumption than in late feudalism). A similar argument can then be made about the expropriation of capitalists.

explainthingstome wrote:
Also, the world has become much better over the last 100 years. Capitalism is making everyone richer and happier. Extreme poverty will dissappear in a few decades. Soon everyone will be educated and well-payed.

It seems to me that in one sense, "everyone is better off now" is almost a trivial statement. Sure, there were periods of straight-up decline in human history (in some places), but generally, I'd say it's a story of progress, faster of slower. So saying "everyone is better off today than they were 100 years ago" is not saying much. People living in feudalism were probably better off than most slaves. This does not justify feudalism, at least in my view. Or, more precisely, I don't think it justifies not rebelling against feudalism.

But perhaps the rate of improvement of the general state of things has accelerated under capitalism. However, even this isn't too clear-cut. There are reversals of fortune like wars and crises that can be seen not as random events but as more or less direct consequences of the nature of capitalism. So, for example, there has been a decline in life expectancy in the US and other developed countries recently that can be linked to preventable social issues, very generally speaking. There are wars and the looming enviromental catastrophe which at this point seems almost inevitable, both linked to the specific "laws of motion" of capitalism. So the statement "everyone is better off now" is not even strictly true, certainly not without some serious qualifications. If you look at real wages in the US or in Germany over the last 25 years, you can see that not everyone faces the same rate of improvement, and not even the same standard of living as their parents. After decades of hard-won job security, rising wages etc., there has been a turn towards increased precariousness, fragmentation of the labor market and even a declining standard of living for some. Eastern Europe, in the 1990s, experienced a wholesale decline of living standards due to the reintroduction of free market capitalism that took years to fix and for some (e.g., the Roma population) it never really got fixed. There are now people in the EU – in a country which produces the most cars per capita in the world – who basically live in conditions approaching the middle ages in terms of sanitation and heating, with localized epidemics of syphilis or measles. But their conditions could have been said to be improving only a few decades ago. So capitalist development is contradictory and it is precisely due to its essential features like its orientation toward profit, competition etc.

Also, the improvements that we've seen over the last, say, 150 years, were not God-given or natural. They were the results of fierce struggles and some terrible sacrifices by the working class, women, non-whites and others. Without the workers movement it's dubitable if most people would even have the right to vote today. So it's not like capitalism is some sort of an automatic engine of progress. Quite the contrary – left to itself, it has some pretty destructive consequences for both humans and nature.

So when looking at the standard of living, I don't think it's all that useful to compare it with that of our ancestors. It doesn't say anything about what one should reasonably expect. It makes more sense to compare it with what would be achievable at the given state of technology, productivity etc. The FAO says that even if only one fourth of the food wasted globally each year was saved, it could feed the roughly 900 million people who go hungry. And that's just one fourth of the "regular" waste. We're not even talking about what could be done with the billions of person-hours of labor time which are wasted every year in retail, real estate, marketing, finance, armaments production or outright repression.

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Aug 24 2018 12:34

Those were some good answers, thanks

alb
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Aug 26 2018 07:15
spacious wrote:
Yeah I read someone saying once Marx never wrote a single line about cities, and I can't say I disagree. The theory of rent in Marx is entirely about agriculture, which seems like an odd oversight - what about rent in an urban setting, rent for industrial purposes, housing rent etc.?

I've had some interesting discussions with Georgists on twitter about land as a resource, in economic theory etc. and about the different ways of envisioning social revolution or reform in that area.

You and someone are quite wrong. In chapter 46 of Volume III of Capital Marx does discuss "building site rent" and also refers to a previous mention of it in chapter 12 of Volume II. In both he quotes the evidence before a Select Committee of a building contractor that:

Quote:
Without speculative building, and on a large scale at that, no contractor can get along today. The profit from just building is extremely small. His main profit comes from raising the ground-rent, from careful selection and skilled utilisation of the building terrain. It is by this method of speculation anticipating the demand for houses that almost the whole Belgravia and Tyburnia, and the countless thousands of villas round London have been built. (Abbreviated from the Report of the Select Committee on Bank Acts, Part I, 1857, Evidence, Questions 5413-18; 5435-36.)

This is still the situation in Britain today and one reason why the housing problem in London in intractable.

Marx was aware of Henry George. In fact his analysis is basically the same, that ground-rent was money for nothing, not even having to invest capital that capitalists had to to make a profit:

Quote:
One part of society thus exacts tribute from another for the permission to inhabit the earth, as landed property in general assigns the landlord the privilege of exploiting the terrestrial body, the bowels of the earth, the air, and thereby the maintenance and development of life. Not only the population increase and with it the growing demand for shelter, but also the development of fixed capital, which is either incorporated in land, or takes root in it and is based upon it, such as all industrial buildings, railways, warehouses, factory buildings, docks, etc., necessarily increase the building rent.

However, he didn't think much of George and regarded the Georgist Single Tax on Land as a way of reducing taxation on the industrial capitalist which would be of no benefit to workers (see his letter here)

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Aug 26 2018 10:42

Thanks alb, looks like you're right. I've been reading Vol II but that part clearly didn't register. I have Vol. III on the reading list next.

There are several of Marx's letters in which he mentions and critiques George, after he was sent no less than four copies of George's book Progress and Poverty by his friends and correspondents. Marx's opinion was that George's thought was an interesting if insufficient step away from bourgeois (Ricardian) economic theory, and he saw the proposal of Land Value Tax as a panacea aimed at saving capitalism (freeing it from having to support an unproductive rentier class of landowners, which capitalism inherited from previous social formations) rather than abolishing it, so basically he saw it as no more than a radical form of liberalism.

I think this is also borne out by some discussions I had with Georgists, they do not see relations between capital and labour (between wage and surplus value), as the main sociopolitical problem. Instead they think that once unproductive landownership is removed or "land value" can be taxed and redistributed, the essential relations of capitalism are basically fine, and both capital and labour will share the benefit.

alb
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Aug 28 2018 06:33
spacious wrote:
I think this is also borne out by some discussions I had with Georgists, they do not see relations between capital and labour (between wage and surplus value), as the main sociopolitical problem. Instead they think that once unproductive landownership is removed or "land value" can be taxed and redistributed, the essential relations of capitalism are basically fine, and both capital and labour will share the benefit.

Yes, I agree that's a fair assessment of what Georgists stand for. Apart from wanting to introduce a Single Tax on "land values", most of them are out-and-out "free" marketeers. The only class that would benefit from this would be the capitalist class in terms of a reduction (in fact abolition) of taxes on them. The landlord class would be worse off while the position of the working class would be unchanged.

At one time, when workers in America and Britain, had not been separated so long from the land and still saw the way-out in going back to it, Georgism was a rival with Socialism for working-class support. There's a debate here that took place in 1889 between Henry George and H. M. Hyndman of the Social Democratic Federation in which George clearly came out for competitive capitalism while Hyndman argued:

Quote:
We do not particularly hate landlords more than capitalists, or capitalists more than landlords. The alligator and the crocodile; it matters not which it is from the point of view of those upon whom they feed (Laughter.) We wish to get rid of both, and what we are aiming at is the abolition of the wages system – (Hear, hear.) – and that aim can only be accomplished by the abolition of private property in the means and instruments of production including the land. (Hear, hear.)
ajjohnstone
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Aug 28 2018 11:55

being an ignoramus when it comes to economic theory i am not sure how relevant today's article in the Guardian is. Nevertheless, it does offer interesting facts and figures and current reform proposals.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/28/call-to-stop-landowners-making-huge-profits-from-speculation

ajjohnstone
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Aug 29 2018 23:24

A related article on land prices in the UK and a call for a land tax

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/29/uks-wealth-rises-as-land-values-soar-by-450bn-in-a-year

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Oct 16 2018 06:47

I didn't read the whole thread yet so sorry if I repeated stuff people said.

First of all I think when you're talking about profits being unpaid labour people sometimes make the mistake of equivocating a description of what happens in capitalism and a moral argument against capitalism.

Some people might have a problem with this explanation but essentially profit or surplus is what is the total value of what is produced minus the cost it took to produce it. Virtually every person who runs a business will tell you this.

It's also likely that even in a libertarian-communist society people will continue to produce more than we consume for situations like emergencies or because the population is growing, or even perhaps to help expand the means of production so we could build more hospitals or solar panels or something.

It's actually completely possible to accept Marx's theory of value and nonetheless support anarcho-capitalist beliefs regarding whether you should be obliged to give up some of what you own (according to anarcho-capitalist principles) to help others.

Now let's talk about the ethical part. Let's say my friends and I who all make an equal amount of income decide to quit our jobs to start a co-op. Let's say we decide that I will pay $1000 to rent an office. Does your capitalist friend really think that anyone on the left would be against the co-op dedicating a certain amount of our income to paying me back $1000, even perhaps with interest in order to deal with for example having to use my credit card more often because I spent $1000?

There's a big difference between this and the way a capitalist perpetually denies people the right to have a say in their workplaces and to continually maintain inequality. Why was it fair that the capitalist owned all that money and property in the first place?

Even if you could argue that this is somehow still technically ethical why is it desirable to maintain this inequality when we could create a system that helped alleviate suffering, allowed more people to have their voices heard, etcetera?

The argument your friend makes works for feudalism as well- Without the king's land the peasant wouldn't be able to farm. If you have a problem with the king owning your land why don't you go move to another kingdom, etc.

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Oct 30 2018 14:41

I've got a follow-up question.

Did forced expropriation of independent agricultural producers by the state or ruling class occur in every European country at some point? I've tried finding other examples than Enclosure in Britain but Wikipedia doesn't have a list about instances of land consolidation.

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Oct 31 2018 00:47
explainthingstome wrote:
Did forced expropriation of independent agricultural producers by the state or ruling class occur in every European country at some point? I've tried finding other examples than Enclosure in Britain but Wikipedia doesn't have a list about instances of land consolidation.

This is a great question. In any country with a large preexisting peasant population, the development of capitalism required the "freeing up" of (parts of) that population for industry. (I think it was Bordiga who said that land reform is the fundamental question of all bourgeois revolutions?) There would be different paths of getting to that result – with very different timelines, also depending on whether the peasants actually owned the land they worked or not. So one can imagine a long period of worsening living conditions, increasing debt, bankruptcies and migration from the countryside throughout several generations of peasants, but also an expropriation campaign executed in a decade or two.

I can't really say much about the histories of all European countries. One would have to look at the history of "land reform" in a given country from, say, the 19th century onwards. But in parts of the former Eastern bloc, what actually led to that result was Stalinist collectivization.

In the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia in 1948, 62% of the economically active population were involved in agriculture. That's almost the same as in 1921, when it was about 65%. But in 1965, it was 30%, in 1985, 16%. "Socialist" collectivization ended in 1960. The peasants were forcibly expropriated, the land collectivized, and mechanization (using imports from the more developed Czech lands and from other states in the Eastern bloc) along with economies of scale led to increased productivity that made a large part of the peasantry superfluous. They became miners, textile and metal workers... This was "primitive accumulation" of sorts, but with a different course than in Britain, where it took centuries and where capitalist production first emerged in agriculture.

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Oct 31 2018 00:46

I think the Damascene moment for Marx was as a law student he studied how the wood gatherers were being persecuted for "breaking" private property laws, the customary traditional rights being abrogated by a new breed of landowner.

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Nov 1 2018 00:38
darren p wrote:
In the Marxian sense "exploitation" has a narrow meaning.

The amount at which a worker is exploited is the amount to which they work over the amount of time that is necessary to reproduce the value of their labour power. The more a worker is exploited the more surplus labour they perform for their employer. If that makes sense?

Rent is something that both capitalists and workers pay. Rent is just the purchase of a commodity so in the Marxian sense there's no "exploitation" taking place.

Though of course landlords, shopkeepers, lenders etc might try to "take advantage of" their customers, but they're not getting them to perform surplus labour for them.

Thanks, Darren P; I find this distinction useful. Only an employer can exploit your labor, but anyone can rip you off.

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Nov 1 2018 15:22

I've looked into my own country's history of land consolidation and it seems like it was similar to how Enclosure worked out in Britain.

Prior to the reform, many peasants lived under a system where they owned small pieces of land that was spread out on the entire field. That meant that all the peasants had to discuss as a group what they were going to grow.

In order for the land reform to be implemented in the village, all that was required was that a single peasant who had rights to the field wanted the reform. Very undemocratic.

Many peasants were forced to move their houses, as they were now living on someone else's land. Some peasants did not have enough money to build a new house and became farmworkers for other peasants instead. The poorest people of the village would often become vagrants.

***

Did Enclosure have an effect on Capitalism other than giving the capitalist class a propertyless workforce? Or is that the only significant way that Enclosure affected capitalist development?