WTF is capitalism???

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Paz
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Jan 12 2009 22:03
WTF is capitalism???

I've been reading through here and it seems that this "capitalism" you speak of sounds like a monstrosity of epic proportions. I'm very inclined to agree with you, but I'm curious as to just what you mean by capitalism. This might look like a foolish question at first, but I want to be clear as to what is exactly implied by the use of the term.

Thanks in advance!

H
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Jan 12 2009 22:14

What you are going to try to advocate, that is not corporatism, or mercantilism, or what ever. . .

Does it still have wage slavery?

Boris Badenov
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Jan 12 2009 22:35

capitali$$m is teh anarchiez!!1 if only those statists would fuck off with their welfare state and social security, then we would be able to live FREE, just like Adam Smith envisaged!

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Jan 12 2009 23:09

Funny, but no. Besides, I wasn't advocating anything. I'm just trying to understand the concept of capitalism as employed on this forum. It means a lot of things to a lot of people so I figured some clarity would be nice. Is that too much to ask?

Besides there are distinctions between political structures and economics. It would be fallacious to say that "capitali$$m is teh anarchiez!!" There are reasons why we employ different terms for the subjects as they are in fact different subjects. I was asking about the concept of capitalism as such. I didn't say that it implied anarchy.

radicalgraffiti
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Jan 12 2009 23:33

A economic system where the means of production owned/controlled by a minority (bosses/capitalists/bourgeoisie) and a much larger group (workers/proletariat) are left with nothing but there labour, which they are therefor forced to sell for a wage to survive.
If the group that owns the means of production is also the government then it is called state capitalism.

http://libcom.org/tags/capitalism

You appear to be a "anarcho-capitalist" or market-"anarchist"?

Boris Badenov
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Jan 12 2009 23:34
Paz wrote:
It means a lot of things to a lot of people

Can you please offer some examples where on this site you have found "capitalism" defined in a way that differs from, or contradicts, the standard dictionary definition of the word?

Caiman del Barrio
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Jan 12 2009 23:37

Ah come on Vlad it's a reasonable question from a newcomer, answer it...

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Jan 12 2009 23:49
radicalgraffiti wrote:
A economic system where the means of production owned/controlled by a minority (bosses/capitalists/bourgeoisie) and a much larger group (workers/proletariat) are left with nothing but there labour, which they are therefor forced to sell for a wage to survive.

Would it still be considered capitalism if bosses/capitalists/bourgeoisie were the majority and the workers/proletariat were the minority?

Is it a prerequisite of being a worker/proletarian to have nothing but the ability to labor or is it possible for the workers/proletariat to have things besides only their ability to labor?

What do you mean to imply by the term "forced"?

Does the "means of production" imply the means of production of anything or does it have to be a specific thing being produced?

radicalgraffiti wrote:
If the group that owns the means of production is also the government then it is called state capitalism.
There is more but wage labour as a result of the majority being depossessed is the most important part.

If the workers/proletariat own the means of production and is also the government, would it be considered state capitalism as well?

What is it to be "depossessed"?

radicalgraffiti wrote:
You appear to be a "anarcho-capitalist" or market-"anarchist"?

Maybe this is so, but that doesn't imply that I actually am either of those.

Boris Badenov
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Jan 12 2009 23:50
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Ah come on Vlad it's a reasonable question from a newcomer, answer it...

it may be a reasonable question technically, but it also relies on the strawman of "capitalism as (mis)defined on this site." In any case, I think radicalgraffiti already gave a pretty decent definition. As you can see Paz, class-struggle anarchists don't think capitalism is the bogeyman.

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Jan 12 2009 23:57
Vlad336 wrote:
Can you please offer some examples where on this site you have found "capitalism" defined in a way that differs from, or contradicts, the standard dictionary definition of the word?

Here is a definition on this site:

radicalgraffiti wrote:
A economic system where the means of production owned/controlled by a minority (bosses/capitalists/bourgeoisie) and a much larger group (workers/proletariat) are left with nothing but there labour, which they are therefor forced to sell for a wage to survive.

Here is the Merriam Webster's dictionary definition:

Main Entry:cap·i·tal·ism
Pronunciation:
\ˈka-pə-tə-ˌliz-əm, ˈkap-tə-, British also kə-ˈpi-tə-\
Function:noun
Date:1877

: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/capitalism

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Jan 13 2009 00:05
Vlad336 wrote:
it may be a reasonable question technically, but it also relies on the strawman of "capitalism as (mis)defined on this site." In any case, I think radicalgraffiti already gave a pretty decent definition.

I doubt that this is a strawman as the point is rather significant for the understanding of exactly what is meant by those who use the term. Just because the dictionary defines a term in some such way doesn't mean that is the definition being employed by the users. Nor am I saying that the use is misdefined as those who use it in the way they use it intend to use it in such a manner and mean by it what they mean when they think and employ the term. The issue here is how it is being employed and what concepts are represented by the word "capitalism". I think radicalgraffiti's definition is pretty good, tbh.

Vlad336 wrote:
As you can see Paz, class-struggle anarchists don't think capitalism is the bogeyman.

Do you mean to imply that I thought that class-struggle anarchists think capitalism is the bogeyman?

Boris Badenov
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Jan 13 2009 00:30

I don't see how RG's definition is fundamentally different from the dictionary definition you just posted. Obviously the former is more politically loaded than the latter, but to spin that as evidence for misrepresentation of what capitalism really is on this site, is just disingenuous.
If you really look into it, you'll find that the "definition on this site," as identified by you, is basically correct
-economic system (check)
-private ownership (check)

Another standard definition, by Oxford-American is:

Quote:
an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit

-profit (check)

Now you will agree that waged labour is essential to capitalism
The same dictionary that I quoted earlied defines wage like this:

Quote:
the part of total production that is the return to labor as earned income as distinct from the remuneration received by capital as unearned income.

-workers sell their labour in return for wages (check); capital is unearned income in the form of profit (check)

"forced", "majority" and "minority" are terms used to describe the reality of capitalism and how it actually functions; you won't find them in Merriam-Webster or Oxford-American, because a dictionary is not a tract on modern economics; these terms do not however invalidate the actual definition of "capitalism" as given by RG.

Boris Badenov
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Jan 13 2009 00:34
Paz wrote:

Do you mean to imply that I thought that class-struggle anarchists think capitalism is the bogeyman?

Based on your initial post, I would say so, yes.

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this "capitalism" you speak of sounds like a monstrosity of epic proportions
radicalgraffiti
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Jan 13 2009 00:35
Paz wrote:
radicalgraffiti wrote:
A economic system where the means of production owned/controlled by a minority (bosses/capitalists/bourgeoisie) and a much larger group (workers/proletariat) are left with nothing but there labour, which they are therefor forced to sell for a wage to survive.

Would it still be considered capitalism if bosses/capitalists/bourgeoisie were the majority and the workers/proletariat were the minority?

I don't see how such a situation could occur, but probably yes.

Quote:
Is it a prerequisite of being a worker/proletarian to have nothing but the ability to labor or is it possible for the workers/proletariat to have things besides only their ability to labor?

The definition was a simplification, the working class are in a situation where they can't get what they need to live without selling there labour, they may own other things but not in sufficient quantities to live on.

Quote:
What do you mean to imply by the term "forced"?

have no choice

Quote:
Does the "means of production" imply the means of production of anything or does it have to be a specific thing being produced?

anything of use

Quote:
radicalgraffiti wrote:
If the group that owns the means of production is also the government then it is called state capitalism.
There is more but wage labour as a result of the majority being depossessed is the most important part.

If the workers/proletariat own the means of production and is also the government, would it be considered state capitalism as well?

they wouldn't be workers/proletariat if they had control over the means of production.

Quote:
What is it to be "depossessed"?

That should be dispossessed, in this case it refers to the fact that the workers who produced everything do not own it.

Boris Badenov
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Jan 13 2009 00:44
radicalgraffiti wrote:
Paz wrote:
radicalgraffiti wrote:
A economic system where the means of production owned/controlled by a minority (bosses/capitalists/bourgeoisie) and a much larger group (workers/proletariat) are left with nothing but there labour, which they are therefor forced to sell for a wage to survive.

Would it still be considered capitalism if bosses/capitalists/bourgeoisie were the majority and the workers/proletariat were the minority?

I don't see how such a situation could occur, but probably yes.

The question itself it misleading because it assumes that the nature of the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in capitalism is somehow dependant on the sheer numbers of bourgeois/workers, when of course that is not true. The inequality inherent in capitalism is not the consequence of there being more capitalists than workers; rather, it's the other way around.

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Jan 13 2009 01:10
Vlad336 wrote:
I don't see how RG's definition is fundamentally different from the dictionary definition you just posted.

Even at first glance we can see that many different terms are employed that may have different conceptual possibilities. A ≠ B

Hence the first question as to what is meant by the term "capitalism".

Vlad336 wrote:
Obviously the former is more politically loaded than the latter, but to spin that as evidence for misrepresentation of what capitalism really is on this site, is just disingenuous.

I don't recall thinking of what I said as giving "evidence for misrepresentation of what capitalism really is on this site". I recall making the statement that alludes to it being otherwise. People can think "the bee's knees", "hell on earth", a proletarian paradise, or proletarian slavery when they employ the term capitalism. These are all possible and would be representative of themselves as the concepts represented by the term, e.g., if one thinks that "capitalism"="the bee's knees", then "the bee's knees" is what one may mean when she says "capitalism". In which case we could talk about "the bee's knees" and what it means in regard to the context that the concept is employed. However, this may not be what one means when she employs the term and a misunderstanding may take place. Therefore a little clarity would help by employing other terms and concepts in order to attempt to acquire an understanding of what is meant by the misunderstood term.

Vlad336 wrote:
If you really look into it, you'll find that the "definition on this site," as identified by you, is basically correct
-economic system (check)
-private ownership (check)

Another standard definition, by Oxford-American is:

Quote:
an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit

-profit (check)

What is implied in "economic system", "private ownership", "profit"?

Vlad336 wrote:
Now you will agree that waged labour is essential to capitalism

I disagree.

Vlad336 wrote:
The same dictionary that I quoted earlied defines wage like this:
Quote:
the part of total production that is the return to labor as earned income as distinct from the remuneration received by capital as unearned income.

-workers sell their labour in return for wages (check); capital is unearned income in the form of profit (check)

This is plausible, but is it exceptionlessly true?

Vlad336 wrote:
"forced", "majority" and "minority" are terms used to describe the reality of capitalism and how it actually functions; you won't find them in Merriam-Webster or Oxford-American, because a dictionary is not a tract on modern economics; these terms do not however invalidate the actual definition of "capitalism" as given by RG.

This is plausible, but is it exceptionlessly true?

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Jan 13 2009 01:12
Vlad336 wrote:

Based on your initial post, I would say so, yes.

Okay, but your implication would be false.

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Jan 13 2009 01:15
Vlad336 wrote:
The question itself it misleading because it assumes that the nature of the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in capitalism is somehow dependant on the sheer numbers of bourgeois/workers, when of course that is not true. The inequality inherent in capitalism is not the consequence of there being more capitalists than workers; rather, it's the other way around.

Then in this case the definition is misleading, not the question I asked. I didn't make the assumption.

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Jan 13 2009 01:34
radicalgraffiti wrote:
The definition was a simplification, the working class are in a situation where they can't get what they need to live without selling there labour, they may own other things but not in sufficient quantities to live on.

Is it possible that under other economic systems the working classes may not own sufficient quantities of things for continued survival?

radicalgraffiti wrote:
have no choice

But they have a choice, namely not to work. The consequences may not be what you prefer, but the choice for them is there.

radicalgraffiti wrote:
anything of use

Okay, then what of things that are not useful? What happens when what is produced is not useful to anyone? Would this situation still be considered "capitalism"?

radicalgraffiti wrote:
they wouldn't be workers/proletariat if they had control over the means of production.

If the workers/proletariat had control over the means of production, and therefore no longer would be considered workers/proletariat, what would they be considered?

Boris Badenov
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Jan 13 2009 01:34
Pez wrote:
These are all possible and would be representative of themselves as the concepts represented by the term, e.g., if one thinks that "capitalism"="the bee's knees", then "the bee's knees" is what one may mean when she says "capitalism". In which case we could talk about "the bee's knees" and what it means in regard to the context that the concept is employed. However, this may not be what one means when she employs the term and a misunderstanding may take place. Therefore a little clarity would help by employing other terms and concepts in order to attempt to acquire an understanding of what is meant by the misunderstood term.

I think you will find very few people here who would regard capitalism as "the bee's knee" or a "workers' paradise." You will probably also find that the understanding of capitalism that is prevalent here is informed, at least to a degree, by a Marxist critique of how capitalism functions. If that's what you wanted to know, so as to avoid talking about different things, then I think your question has been answered.

Quote:
I disagree.

ok then; please explain how capital is created in the absence of labour.

Quote:
This is plausible, but is it exceptionlessly true?

If you agree that it is a valid definition (or part of a valid definition), then yes, it is implicitly true without exception. Otheriwse it would say "except for...."

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Jan 13 2009 01:58
Vlad336 wrote:
I think you will find very few people here who would regard capitalism as "the bee's knee" or a "workers' paradise." You will probably also find that the understanding of capitalism that is prevalent here is informed, at least to a degree, by a Marxist critique of how capitalism functions. If that's what you wanted to know, so as to avoid talking about different things, then I think your question has been answered.

My question was "WTF is capitalism???" Just because some of the people on this forum use the term in a certain way doesn't necessarily mean that this is a definition of capitalism that isn't arbitrary.

Vlad336 wrote:
Now you will agree that waged labour is essential to capitalism
Paz wrote:
I disagree.

ok then; please explain how capital is created in the absence of labour.

What does this necessarily have to do with my disagreement?

Vlad336 wrote:
If you agree that it is a valid definition (or part of a valid definition), then yes, it is implicitly true without exception. Otheriwse it would say "except for...."

I can agree that this is a valid definition while also implicitly agreeing that there are other valid definitions or exceptions. You decreeing that it is implicitly true without exception may be fallacious.

BillJ
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Jan 13 2009 02:59

Perhaps you could tell us what you think capitalism is; it might get the ball rolling.

Zazaban
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Jan 13 2009 03:33
BillJ wrote:
Perhaps you could tell us what you think capitalism is; it might get the ball rolling.

Judging by what this guy's said on Flag!, using somebody else's apple juicer qualifies as capitalism.

BillJ
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Jan 13 2009 03:55
Zazaban wrote:
BillJ wrote:
Perhaps you could tell us what you think capitalism is; it might get the ball rolling.

Judging by what this guy's said on Flag!, using somebody else's apple juicer qualifies as capitalism.

Sounds more like communism!

akai
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Jan 13 2009 05:44

I do assume that it's obvious to everyone that every libertarian is convinced that we just don't know how great real capitalism really is. smile That said, one has to be careful with those slippery "market anarchists" and even more so with anarchists of the libertarian ilk who in fact criticize some aspects of capitalism as it is currently practiced, but not capitalism itself.

Quote:
Would it still be considered capitalism if bosses/capitalists/bourgeoisie were the majority and the workers/proletariat were the minority?

That's a crazy question but fair game since it had been defined as relating to a worker majority exploited by a capitalist minority. Majorities and minorities are not relevant.

Quote:
Is it a prerequisite of being a worker/proletarian to have nothing but the ability to labor or is it possible for the workers/proletariat to have things besides only their ability to labor?

In many situations, members of the working class also plays the role of capitalist since workers own stocks and participate in pension schemes which provide capital. It is clear that since this system is proliferated, some of the money earned through it is this repumped into capitalism. Thus members of the working class are coerced and seduced into reproducing the system and taking part in the cycle of exploitation. However their shares, taken individually, tend to represent only a tiny fraction of investment when compared to the stakes held by the wealthy. Here it is clear that the shareholder system is the problem. There are also other interrelated ones such as the banking system which invests people's savings and the privatized pension schemes which also serve as a capital pool.

Quote:
What do you mean to imply by the term "forced"?

One of the main fallacies of libertarian argument is the idea that entering into a labour contract with a capitalist is usually voluntary. Some even argue that, if somebody really didn't want to do this, they can do something else. But "forced" relates to a real lack of choices outside of the capitalist system. Our "choice" in fact is limited to a few options: hiring ourselves out (to a boss or to clients as a sole contractor); obtaining capital, investing it and living off it like parasites; joining together with others to make a collective business, where we might not have a wage labour situation, but we are still working within the confines of market capitalism and the state (even if we say, employ some radical measures such as trying to live mostly off what we produce or using barter instead of money).

The element of force must include the system of inherited private property. If I am not "free" to just take a piece of unused land, homestead it, work the fields, etc... I am forced to earn capital to purchase it, or sell my labour to rent it. I am forced to sell my labour within the capitalist system in order to ensure my basic survival.

Talking to libertarians is like talking to bullshit artists. You hear lovely ideas like "people have the choice not to work". Again, they try to limit your choices to the ones allowed by the legal system, the system in place to protect property. Do people have the "choice" to say, take over people's money, their mansions, factories, office buildings, etc. and build something on that? Not according to the bourgeois law. In the bourgeois law we have the false choice to be wage slaves or "not to work". What a racket. Libertarianism, like capitalism itself, is only possible with the use of the force of the state or private security to keep the scum safe. Take that protection away and you'll see how fast somebody "agrees" to work 16 hours a day in a sweatshop and live in a hovel for some scumbag living in a mansion.

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Jan 13 2009 09:50

Very good post laureakai.

One crucial aspect missing in this thread, and perhaps it is because no Marxists have posted here so far, is the centrality of the commodity, the commodity form, the value-form, abstract wealth, and abstract labour to capitalism. My short(ish) definition of capitalism (or rather, the capitalist mode of production) is: wage labour based generalized commodity production in which occurs the extraction of surplus-value by those in control of the means of production from those working in order to accumulate said surplus-value (and typically re-investing it in further means of production and labour power, in order to perpetuate the process). This general definition has the advantage of applying to both 'private property' forms and the 'state property' forms (e.g. in Cuba, N. Korea, or the old USSR and Eastern Bloc countries) of capitalism. However, it leaves out the factor of competition, which is essential for the continuation of capitalism. Competition in 'western', 'private property' forms of capitalism is obvious to all, found as it is in every market. In the old USSR (and other statist cases) the competition was/is transposed to the inter-national level via trade.

It should also be noted that capitalism can only really be understood historically, as a historically developing system. This makes moot a number of hypothetical questions Paz asks.

Capitalism is also of course what we call the wider society based on this mode of production, a society divided into a ruling, controlling, capitalist class, and a dispossessed working class. (Not to exclude other classes/strata, but these two classes are the central, constituting classes in capitalist society.)

Finally, it isn't necessarily clear (at least not me) that all or most people on this site share a single, common understanding of what capitalism is. But I think most here accept an understanding of it that is pretty close to the one given here, or to the one given earlier by radicalgraffiti.

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Jan 13 2009 09:59
laureakai wrote:
In many situations, members of the working class also plays the role of capitalist since workers own stocks and participate in pension schemes which provide capital.

What is “capital”?

laureakai wrote:
It is clear that since this system is proliferated, some of the money earned through it is this repumped into capitalism. Thus members of the working class are coerced and seduced into reproducing the system and taking part in the cycle of exploitation.

Again, what is capitalism? What does it mean to “coerce”? What do you mean by “exploitation”?

laureakai wrote:
However their shares, taken individually, tend to represent only a tiny fraction of investment when compared to the stakes held by the wealthy. Here it is clear that the shareholder system is the problem.

Why would you consider it clear that the shareholder system is a problem at all? I'm not saying that there will never be problems under all circumstances, but ceteris paribus, what is the problem with this?

laureakai wrote:
There are also other interrelated ones such as the banking system which invests people's savings and the privatized pension schemes which also serve as a capital pool.

What is a “capital pool”?

laureakai wrote:
One of the main fallacies of libertarian argument is the idea that entering into a labour contract with a capitalist is usually voluntary.

What is a contract?

laureakai wrote:
Some even argue that, if somebody really didn't want to do this, they can do something else.

I'm sure we can come up with an example wherein it would be impossible to do something else if one didn't want to do a particular thing.

laureakai wrote:
But "forced" relates to a real lack of choices outside of the capitalist system.

Yet what is implied by the term “forced”? Can there be a real lack of choices in other systems as well?

laureakai wrote:
Our "choice" in fact is limited to a few options: hiring ourselves out (to a boss or to clients as a sole contractor); obtaining capital, investing it and living off it like parasites; joining together with others to make a collective business, where we might not have a wage labour situation, but we are still working within the confines of market capitalism and the state (even if we say, employ some radical measures such as trying to live mostly off what we produce or using barter instead of money).

It is possible to choose “none of the above”. The consequences may not be desired, but it is possible.

laureakai wrote:
The element of force must include the system of inherited private property. If I am not "free" to just take a piece of unused land, homestead it, work the fields, etc... I am forced to earn capital to purchase it, or sell my labour to rent it. I am forced to sell my labour within the capitalist system in order to ensure my basic survival.

Again, force is not clearly defined here. Capital is also not clearly defined here. Must private property include inheritance? You may not be forced to earn capital or to sell labor, but you may not be able to acquire what you want if you choose not to earn capital or to sell labor. You may choose not to sell your labor “within the capitalist system”, and yes, your basic survival may not be ensured in this case, but this is possible in other “systems” as well.

laureakai wrote:
Talking to libertarians is like talking to bullshit artists. You hear lovely ideas like "people have the choice not to work".

Under what circumstances would there not be a choice?

laureakai wrote:
Again, they try to limit your choices to the ones allowed by the legal system, the system in place to protect property.

Someone could very well choose to live a life of harvesting organs from unwilling donors. Whether or not it is allowed by some legal system and whether or not these systems are in place to protect property is another matter.

laureakai wrote:
Do people have the "choice" to say, take over people's money, their mansions, factories, office buildings, etc. and build something on that?

It is sometimes possible, but the consequences may be severe.

laureakai wrote:
Not according to the bourgeois law. In the bourgeois law we have the false choice to be wage slaves or "not to work". What a racket.

What is “the bourgeois law”?

laureakai wrote:
Libertarianism, like capitalism itself, is only possible with the use of the force of the state or private security to keep the scum safe. Take that protection away and you'll see how fast somebody "agrees" to work 16 hours a day in a sweatshop and live in a hovel for some scumbag living in a mansion.

What do you mean by “libertarianism”?

What do you mean by “”agrees””? Do you mean to imply that the consent is not voluntary?

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Jan 13 2009 10:00
waslax wrote:
This makes moot a number of hypothetical questions Paz asks.

The falsity of empirical statements does not falsify our conceptual truths.

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Jan 13 2009 10:05
BillJ wrote:
Zazaban wrote:
BillJ wrote:
Perhaps you could tell us what you think capitalism is; it might get the ball rolling.

Judging by what this guy's said on Flag!, using somebody else's apple juicer qualifies as capitalism.

Sounds more like communism!

I must say that I LMAO'ed when I read Zazaban's post. And under the right conditions he would be correct. However, his example is not exceptionlessly true.

BillJ, if I were to give an arbitrary definition of capitalism to you, I would end up leaving out another possible definition. An example of this would be an attempt to define the word "game". If I defined a game along the lines of checkers I would leave out basketball or many other games for that matter. If I defined it as team sport I would leave out games like solitaire, etc.

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Jan 13 2009 10:23
weeler wrote:
Borderline trolling from Paz here, but mostly a distractionary and cheap debating tactic;

"What is the?"
"What is and?"
"What is falsity?"
"What is “the bourgeois law?"
"What is forced?"
"What is an obvious troll trying to distract away from solid arguments by insisting on a definition of each term used?"

The intent is to attempt to bring clarity to the discussion so that one can understand what is meant by the terms employed.

It may be facetious to ask questions like "What is the?", "What is and?", and "What is falisty?". Yet when it isn't clear what is implied by "the bourgeois law" and "force" for that matter, then questions about these terms are valid.

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Jan 13 2009 10:37
weeler wrote:
Yes but you've done it some twenty times in this thread. You sound like a scientologist.

I wish I didn't have to, but terms keep popping up which lack accurate definition. I hate to sound like a scientologist, so let me attempt to demonstrate my point:

You can have coercion with or without force. You can have force with or without aggression. You can have aggression with or without torts.