Questioning the Underlying Structures of Property and Power is “Off the Table”

Yves here. The Real News Network interview below with Vijay Prashad, a professor of international studies at Trinity College, is part of a series that examines the power dynamics that undergird our economic system. Unlike most interviews, this one is more ruminative. Rather than trying to deliver some key observations to viewers, this one is more intended to help people recognize that they have blinkered views on some issues. For instance, Prashad points out that India had a very different view of Communism than most Americans did did. They didn’t see it a monolithic system, but simply an manifestation of an approach to social and economic organization and that they could throw out parts that didn’t work well and see if they could come up with another implementation. Socialism has a similarly bad name in America, when in fact Japan had a very socialistic version of capitalism, and that socialistic version seems to be holding up better under the strain of the lost two decades than our supposedly more successful economy (just look at the social indicators side by side if you have any doubts).

There’s a great section in Robert Heilbroner’s Beyond the Veil of Economics, and due to the lateness of the hour I hope you’ll forgive me for reconstructing it rather than digging out the relevant part Heilbroner talks about how it’s conventional to see the coercive elements of the feudal system, in that it was the fear of the bailiff and the lash that kept the peasants toiling. But there is a coercive element to capitalism that we don’t see because we are so deeply part of this system, that people get up, every day, and go to jobs they often hate (or worse, languish unemployed and worry about basic survival). Now before you say, “well that’s just how it has to be” thats’ false. One of the excuses for the enclosure movement in England was that the yeoman farmers had it way too easy. If they could graze their livestock on the common pastureland, hunt, and garden a bit, they could support themselves comfortably, with plenty of leisure time.

I strongly suggest you read this post by Yasha Levine, Recovered Economic History – “Everyone But an Idiot Knows That The Lower Classes Must Be Kept Poor, or They Will Never Be Industrious,” in conjunction with the interview below. To give you some highlights:

Our popular economic wisdom says that capitalism equals freedom and free societies, right? Well, if you ever suspected that the logic is full of shit, then I’d recommend checking a book called The Invention of Capitalism, written by an economic historian named Michael Perelmen, who’s been exiled to Chico State, a redneck college in rural California, for his lack of freemarket friendliness. And Perelman has been putting his time in exile to damn good use, digging deep into the works and correspondence of Adam Smith and his contemporaries to write a history of the creation of capitalism that goes beyond superficial The Wealth of Nations fairy tale and straight to the source, allowing you to read the early capitalists, economists, philosophers, clergymen and statesmen in their own words. And it ain’t pretty….

Faced with a peasantry that didn’t feel like playing the role of slave, philosophers, economists, politicians, moralists and leading business figures began advocating for government action. Over time, they enacted a series of laws and measures designed to push peasants out of the old and into the new by destroying their traditional means of self-support.

“The brutal acts associated with the process of stripping the majority of the people of the means of producing for themselves might seem far removed from the laissez-faire reputation of classical political economy,” writes Perelman. “In reality, the dispossession of the majority of small-scale producers and the construction of laissez-faire are closely connected, so much so that Marx, or at least his translators, labeled this expropriation of the masses as ‘‘primitive accumulation.’’

Perelman outlines the many different policies through which peasants were forced off the land—from the enactment of so-called Game Laws that prohibited peasants from hunting, to the destruction of the peasant productivity by fencing the commons into smaller lots—but by far the most interesting parts of the book are where you get to read Adam Smith’s proto-capitalist colleagues complaining and whining about how peasants are too independent and comfortable to be properly exploited, and trying to figure out how to force them to accept a life of wage slavery.

The interview is worthwhile but, if you are time-pressed, you might prefer reading the transcript.

More at The Real News

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  1. Beppo

    I think the most telling sign that discussions of underlying capitalist structure are not allowed is how the language of mental illness is always deployed in response. The same goes for anyone resisting u.s. imperialism.

    Somehow economic fairness is insane and loony, and the only rational policy is neoliberal global capitalism. Even staunch conservative capitalists who aren’t for globalization are called crazy.

      1. GusFarmer

        In “civilized” cultures, mental illness is USUALLY defined by TPTB, who have a vested interest in denigrating opposition. They’d prefer not to have to kill you (that tends to create enemies), so they ID you as “crazy” to isolate you — it acts as a form of exclusion from society. They have a vested interest in keeping you “crazy” until you accept THEIR terms of existence.
        Tribal “uncivilized” societies, by contrast, tend to have mechanisms that accept what we define as “mental illness” by incorporating it into their culture. It often occurs as shamanism or ancestor worship, with their acceptance of “spirits” and the like.

    1. middle seaman

      Talk about an alternative system to the oppressive one we live with is hampered first and foremost by our abject disability to spell out an alternative. Communism tried to be an alternative and turned out to be way worse than capitalism American style.

      Pointing to drawbacks, no matter how overbearing, doesn’t constitute an alternative.

      1. LucyLulu

        Unless I misunderstood, I heard alternative ideas thrown out by Prashad. He talked about the Soviet experiment being initially successful but done in a different environment than today where productivity is far higher, thus providing for everyone’s needs poses less of a problem and people would be more free to choose the work they wanted to do. He also spoke of cooperatives as an alternative to the large bureaucracy that brought down the USSR. The choice of incentives he seemed to leave as a problem needing further exploration including how wide the ranges of compensation should be.

  2. joecostello

    Its just depressing how theres no creative thinking politics. There’s no alternative to what is, except to bring back the old left. If you want to talk about power, start with it is geometric. And to talk about “the state” as if its a structure that has some sort of apriori architecture is just not “radical.” I think this interview shows how conservative political thinking remains.

      1. nonclassical ostensible parallel to Naomi Klein’s worker owned workplace-“The Shock Doctrine”…developed from remnants of South-Central American economies, after Milton Friedman’s “Chicago Boys” and U.S. backed military junta influences
        had diminished…

  3. Jessica

    The suppression of any serious, sustained, socially widespread discussion of property and power structures has been developed into a complex social production in its own right. This is the No. 1 priority task that the elite assigns to the knowledge worker class as a whole. Within the knowledge worker class, the higher one is to the top, the more one is being paid to produce not-knowing rather than knowing.
    At the same time, the elite decades ago lost any social function, anything that could be a foundation for an elite-wide ethics and discipline. So the elite has shattered into a large number of shards, loosely held together only by the gravity of power itself. This means that the current system has much less ability to withstand scrutiny. Not-knowing produced at great effort is both possible and necessary for the current system.
    Most important is to recognize that people have great potential but that it is not so visible. The surface appearances of society are controlled and run as a society-wide performance art, whose theme is TINA (There Is No Alternative). The true essence of things is hidden beneath. We are capable of more than we know when we can break through the surface appearances.

  4. RanDomino

    “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….” ― Noam Chomsky

  5. charles sereno

    That “everything is complicated” ideally should be introduced to our young ones as soon as feasible. The verdict is out about how happy our peasant forbears were at the birth of capitalism. IMO, we can learn more today about capitalism by examining our present day “peasants.” They are at least as “happy” as serfs ever were. In short, I think more attention should be paid to the habits of the 99%.

  6. Eleanor

    Michael Perelman is very worth reading. He shows how economic theories are not timeless in the manner of physics, but rooted in specific historical moments — and very much rooted in power relationships.

    1. GusFarmer

      Of course, because economics is essentially the priesthood of money. The “theory” that’s dominant at any time reflects the interests of the powerful. I put it in quotes because it has no objectivity at all, being solely based on how the players word-wank and manipulate the numbers. Economics is NOT a science.

  7. Lee

    One key to understanding why the structure of property is not questioned is because most of us in America are taught that those who own the means of production have the right to do what they want.

    A Marxist response that is often overlooked is that of “surplus value.” Basic to this view is that workers are absolutely necessary to the formation of value. If there were no workers, there would be no wealth. But workers have no control over the share of the wealth they help create they can access. That is the basic unfairness of the Capitalist system for me.

    Example: It costs about $15 to make an iPad. (This figure may not be exactly accurate, but it is in the ballpark.) An iPad costs between $400 to $600. Who gets they surplus value ($400 – $15 = $385)? It is the owner of the means of production, mainly. The workers get the least amount they can from the owners. That’s a basic unfairness that must be addressed.

    1. Ace Reneau

      These comments on capitalism are typical of those who read too much political philosphy. A simple accounting will raise the issue whether “Surplus” is a useful term. The profits producted by the IPad are earned income based on creativity, risk, and the costs of capitalrequired to produce the good. The labor involved is paid at the going rates; however there is no competition for labor often, so the pricing is next to impossible. Management does get paid well, but it provides the means of production. I am a Marxist, but we do need to learn some basic accounting.

      1. seriously

        A Marxist, eh?


        Then I guess it’s just par for the course that a “Marxist” – guffaw – wouldn’t recognize the term “surplus value”, huh, and would try and substitute the term “surplus”, eh?

        No really, that was cute.

        Hint, go to the below link, read something on the varying Marxist – like real Marxist – formulations/equations for surplus value and quit embarrassing yourself.

        No really.

      2. Walter Map

        I am a Marxist.

        A Marxist who promotes capitalist apologetics? Seems contradictory.

        Okay, if we’re going to play that game, let me introduce myself. I’m Walter Map. I was born in the 12th century. No, really. Just ask my brother, Mercator Map, or my lovely cousin, Contour Map, or my uncle, Great World Atlas.

        The labor involved is paid at the going rates . . .

        “Pay” is little more than a euphemism when referring to Chinese serfs, yet you’re pretending their compensation is somehow fair even though it doesn’t rise to the level of subsistence.

        If you’re a Marxist, I’m the Czar of All the Russias. No, really.

      3. allan harris

        Actually Ace, you may be the one who needs some lessons in accounting. You say the income from an Ipad is “earned” and is based on risk, creativity and costs of capital. First, the income from the sale of an Ipad goes to Apple stockholders. The entire point of owning shares in Apple is that the income is not earned or worked for. Second, you can search through millions of corporate financial reports and you will not find a single accounting entry for “risk” or “creativity.” Finally, the cost of capital is usually called “interest” and is very well accounted for in the cost of an Ipad.

        The difference between the sales price and what Apple paid for the production of the Ipad is Apple’s profit. If you were a Marxist you would know that Apple did not pay the full production costs. Apple workers did the work, but Apple did not pay them the full value of what they produced, only their slave wages.

        1. Walter Map

          That’s the great thing about being a Capitalist: you don’t have to work for a living, because you’ve got thousands of people making money for you – and you can still call it ‘earnings’ (as if there’s any actual personal toil involved) and claim to be taking ‘risks’, even though any losses are more than made up for by the Federal Reserve.

          You don’t even have to bother about profits. If you do feel your global holding company should earn a profit just have the lobbyists tell the government to throw money at you.

          Socialism is only for the very rich. It’s much too good for the common people.

          But really, it’s awfully hard work, sitting around the pool at the villa, waiting for the checks with all those zeroes on them to arrive. A terrible burden. People just don’t understand, but a guy like Bill Gates or David Koch works up to a million times harder then their average employee. No wonder they look so tired.

          I hear a Dire Straits song coming on …

      4. margarets

        Yeah… no, that’t not what Marx was getting at. There are some good intro lectures on Marxist economics at

      5. LucyLulu

        Over the last several decades, worker productivity has increased while (non-management) worker share of income has declined. Meanwhile, management incomes have increased as have corporate profits, while the corporate share of the national tax burden has also declined. Irrespective of what type of accounting is used, these changes in relative shares remain indisputable.

        I’m old enough to remember when “employee profit-sharing” plans were common. Hell, I’m old enough to remember when everybody offered pension plans, and between their pensions, social security, and savings (including owning their homes free and clear), people were financially secure when they retired at 65. I feel lucky in that I’ve never cared much for material possessions (and am cheap!) but now my friends are retiring at 66 or 67 paying rent or still having years left on their mortgages, little to no savings, no pensions and inadequate if any 401K’s, and those who have lost their jobs have been unable to find new jobs paying much more than minimum wage, and a social security check that barely sustains living above the poverty level. One friend, after working all her life, has found herself on social security at 62, accepting part-time work substitute teaching, and collecting food stamps after being laid off from her comfortable $60K/year job. Another middle-aged couple I know is trying to dig their way out after losing their McMansion to foreclosure, medical bills having piled up (despite insurance) and having lost an income, after the wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even if they didn’t expect to travel the world, it wasn’t what boomers envisioned for their retirement years.

        Meanwhile, I also have friends (and family) who have far more than they will ever need (seem to becoming more acquaintances these days….. thanks a lot, Yves!). Invariably they are convinced it has nothing to do with better childhood opportunities, privilege, race, or luck. Anybody who possesses their same superior talent, ambition, and is willing to work equally hard could do just as well, so quit whining already.

    2. MRW

      How can an iPad cost $15 when the cost of goods sold (COGS) for the iPhone is about $293?

      An iPhone generates approximately $650 in revenue for Apple. This figure has remained fairly steady over time.

      Bill of materials (BOM) is $200. This represents the cost of the components that go into the device. These are paid to suppliers.

      The remaining $93 covers:
      • Transportation/warehousing. This is the cost to transport and store the product before sale. This is paid to shipping companies and warehousing.
      • Manufacturing cost (including labor). This is paid to contract manufacturers.
      • Warranty expense. This is paid back to customers for returned product that can no longer be sold.


    3. Mike Rhys


      That IS the basic unfairness, that labor does not share in an equitable division of profits, but is locked into a subsistence wage, while all profits go to capital, increasing capital’s wealth, to be reinvested in another exploitive corporation. The repetition of that cycle leads to the increasing concentration of wealth among the few, and the impoverishment of the many.

      Please contribute:

  8. harry

    Yves, how long have you been a communist and I never knew!

    With reference to Yasha Levine’s piece (which I enjoyed when I read it a while ago) – thats the thing about societies economic surplus. Someone clever is always gonna have their eye on it!

    I have only recently revised my view of the fall of Rome. I used to be anti-“dark ages”. Now I realise that to be pro-Rome is to be pro-vast slave estates and aggressive militarism. The art, culture and plumbing all came at a cost and that cost was vast slave estates. The fall of Rome was the also the freeing of Roman slaves who I would imagine became Europe’s peasantry. Not great lives but better than they were.

    Of course, this historical analysis has nothing to tell us about how we live today.

  9. Klassy!

    This was a wonderful interview– I recommend part 1 also. I could listen to Prashad talk all day. I liked hearing about his discovery of Marx and his description of The Communist Manifesto as “extravagant”. What a welcome change from the bloodless language of so many “public intellectuals”. He talks about the Soviet Union forgetting about the concept of joy and sees this as a big failing of their experiment. I feel that in the US we have caught up in removing joy from our lives. I think about this in the context of sport/physical activity. Everything must have a purpose –health benefits, “teamwork skills”, new neural connections (or whatevery sciency benefits they’re touting)– whatever, it is alway about getting a leg up on the next guy.

    1. Klassy!

      I was inspired to pull Resurrection off my bookshelf and to actually read it. I’d like to share the opening paragraph. Sorry so many words but I think NC readers would like it:

      Though men in the hundreds of thousands had tried their hardest o disfigure that little corner of the earth where they had crowded themselves together, paving the ground with stones so that nothing could grow, weeding out every blade of vegetation, filling the air with the fumes of coal and gas, cutting down the trees and driving away every beast and every bird- spring, however was still spring even in the town. The sun still shown warm, the grass, wherever it had not been scraped away, revived and showed green not only on the narrow strips of lawn on the boulevards but between the paving stones as well, and the birches, the poplars, and the wild cherry-trees were unfoldingtheir sticky, fragrant leaves, and the swelling buds were bursting on the lime-trees: the jackdaws, the sparrows and the pigeons were cheerfully getting their nests ready for the spring, and the flies, warmed by the sunshine, buzzed gaily along the walls. All were happy- plants, birds, insects, and children. But grown-up people- adult men and women- never left off cheating and tormenting themselves and one another. It was not the spring morning which they considered sacred and important, not the beauty of God’s world, given to all creatures to enjoy- a beauty which inclines the heart to peace, to harmony and to love. No, what they considered sacred and important were their won devices for weilding power over each other.
      Now, I haven’t read very far beyond this yet but Prashad read this book and it led him to doubt liberalism’s ability to improve the human condition. Perhaps Tolstoy is even less hopeful.

      1. Klassy!

        Thanks for that! it reminds me of this from Christiopher Lasch: “Yet the futility of play, and nothing else, explains its appeal– its artificiality, the arbitrary obstacles it sets up for no other purpose than to challenge the players to surmount them, the absence of any utilitarian or uplifting object. Games quickly lose their charm when forced into the service of education, character development, or social improvement.”

    2. Banger

      I find the discussion of the SU interesting–yes, it was an experiment that was promising but the Party betrayed the Revolution and became just another ruling elite and instituted the Gulag System to create social consent this dammed it regardless of the benefits. Eastern Europe had a less harsh time but the regimes were horrible and were another example of the need for a checks and balance system.

      Marx offered insights but, as a practical matter, no solutions.

    3. anon y'mouse

      “everything must have a purpose..”

      I hear you. this ties together a few of the different threads running through discussions and posts here today. menial work, toddler coaches, etc.

      my only response is that pointing out that certain activities DO foster such things doesn’t mean that they should be undertaken solely for those purposes. as my point about the Japanese schoolkids who clean their classroom was discussing—the activity can have quite a few beneficial effects while its instrumental purpose is simply to maintain order in one small location.

      this is one of those “means to an end” vs. “means in and of themselves” kinds of things, though. our entire society, and thus many of us in it, have become simply a means to someone else’s ends. those someone’s say to us “be thankful that we allow you to achieve your own ends (defined simply as “to survive”) while we attain this Progress which will allow all boats to rise.” meanwhile…

      1. Klassy!

        Oh, I definitely see the value in the students caring for their classrooms as well as what Prashad said about everyone sharing in “menial” tasks. I’m not against purpose.

  10. diptherio

    My reading of history indicates that modern nation-states grew out of social relations which were overtly designed to suck wealth from the periphery to the center and from the poor masses to the wealthy few (who had become wealthy, in the final analysis, through plunder). What started out as groups of mafiosi running protection rackets over large swathes of territory, eventually became legitimized by the passage of time and clever religious PR.

    It was recognized as moral and proper that subjects existed to serve the monarch and that colonies existed to enrich the capital. However, following the American and French revolutions, things began to change. Now the overriding sentiment became reversed; that the capital should serve the territories and the government serve the people. Whereas previously a citizen who refused to serve the government was considered anathema, now a government that refused to serve the citizenry became viewed as illegitimate. The source of legitimacy had flipped.

    Despite this, the social structure of the state, which had originally been created to oppress and extract, remained almost entirely unchanged. This may be why the grand promises of the democratic western states (the American and European Dreams, as it were) have failed so spectacularly. The question we might ask at this point is whether it was ever even possible to re-purpose the extractive architecture of the state in this manner. It might be that a system of wealth creation cannot actually be created on the design of a system of wealth extraction.

    If that is the case, then we need to totally re-think the fundamental design of our social systems. That is a scary thought for a lot of people, and many, as Kierkegaard put it, “do not have the courage to think a thought through to its end.”

    My conclusion is that the whole nation-state apparatus needs to be dismantled, if we’re ever to have a system that actually works in the interests of most of us. Is that unpatriotic?

    1. GusFarmer

      Interesting. I basically agree; if you look at history, the founders of new regimes/dynasties were very often warlords. When the US collapses, don’t be surprised to see states form around drug lords and the like, since they have the force and organization to do so (and are basically already doing so in Mexico).
      You note “the social structure of the state, which had originally been created to oppress and extract, remained almost entirely unchanged.” That’s part of the problem. But I think a bigger one is that the ECONOMIC structure of the state is unchanged. We have (at least in theory) a popular democracy for a state, but everything that enables the state to function is based on the authoritarian/oligarchic model. The two have been vying for supremacy since 1776 because they are inherently incompatible. To keep a democratic polity alive, we must reform the economy into one that is also democratic. If we don’t, the concentration of power wealth provides will force our polity to revert to the top-down pyramid we knew through most of “civilized” history.

      1. Saddam Smith

        Agreed, and to do so money must be changed otherwise economics and markets are also about concentrating wealth/power to the few and away from the many. And when I say change money, I mean fundamentally change money. As I have come to understand it, state and money co-create(d) each other (with market a network effect or emergent property of the mutual arising of the state-money system). Changing one requires thus changing the other, which then entails changing the market/price system as a corollary. In short, away from scarcity, competition, fear and greed towards abundance, faith, cooperation and sharing. A long shot, but one worth striving towards I believe.

  11. docg

    “Now before you say, “well that’s just how it has to be” that’s false.”

    Thank you, Yves. And no, it certainly does NOT have to be that way. Many studies of African Pygmy and Bushman societies, along with those of many other indigenous peoples, have demonstrated that you are absolutely right. So this is NOT some vaguely Utopian assumption, but a clearly verifiable fact of life. And we’re talking about societies that have survived, and flourished, from the Stone Age till now.

    “. . . as has been clear to those who have studied the Pygmies and Bushmen of Africa, their remarkable societies appear, through most of their history, to have lived collectively, sharing goods on an equal basis, shunning competition, and yet managing to survive peacefully and harmoniously among themselves, for the most part, with little if any trace of regimentation or coercion, for what now appears to have been literally tens of thousands of years! . . .

    If sharing can be a way of life for societies that have flourished for tens of thousands of years, then a need for personal incentives based on competition cannot be grounded in “human nature.” And if life in the Kalahari desert, where Bushmen groups have survived for centuries at least, is marked by extreme scarcity of both food and water, then [the] assertion that “In a world of scarcity it is essential for an economic system to be based on a clear incentive structure to promote economic efficiency” cannot be true.”


  12. Carla

    Thank you, Yves, for this post and citing the interview. Naked Capitalism makes important contributions to this little life every day, and I am grateful.

  13. clarence swinney

    Oregon is sixteenth state calling to amend it.
    It was a dumb Supreme Court Ruling so kick it out.
    It put unlimited money into our elections.

    Another problem, much worse, is computerized control of the individual vote.
    I voted a straight D and on review it was straight R.

    In North Carolina R took over governorship plus legislature,

    I feel it was programming computers to yield that result not corporate money.
    Will R eventually take over all state voting?
    Who controls, programs the computers.
    Diebold was sold to a Republican.

    1. LucyLulu

      NC has a bunch of Neanderthals in Raleigh running the state.

      They have actually passed legislation assessing a special tax on parents if their college-aged students register to vote. They also passed a law mandating that middle school health teachers educate all students that abortions cause miscarriages and pre-term deliveries in future pregnancies. No, it isn’t true. That’s in addition to the usual voter ID, reduction in early voting, closing polls promptly on election day even if people are still in line, and shutting down abortion clinics legislation (and sneaking the legislation through by attaching it to motorcycle legislation and such), that other red states are also passing. Last year a ballot vote denied domestic violence protection to anybody except heterosexual married couples (since nobody else should be living together). It may be the only reason my state legislators haven’t taken out orders of protection on me.

  14. anon y'mouse

    another question which many don’t want to face, is that whole “myth of progress” thing that is bound up with technological development. do we, or did we ever NEED technological development in order to live well? if you’re talking medical advances, probably. this can’t happen alone and makes all of the other things necessary. the choice always seems to be “if you don’t want to live like a Cro-Magnon, this is the way it has to be.” naturally, there is no awareness that the Cro-Magnon, for all of his technical limitations, was probably living a quite comfortable and self-directed life, even if he didn’t have an automatic dishwasher nor dishes to put in one.

    we have the machines now, and as diptherio pointed out above, the system which produced them and keeps them going was based around extraction. can we repurpose them to fairness, or are the unequal power structures inherent in using them. I would say that the inherent power structures might be necessary to getting them built, but many knowledge-worker projects and even the atomic bomb (wicked & unnecessary as it is) seem to have been made by people living in a relatively egalitarian community who were freely sharing and riffing off of each other. the fact that they were free to do this, however, was based around everyone else behaving like a slave for most of their time on earth.

    every time I see a PBS travel show or movie set in the grand buildings in Europe (which I will now never be able to see for myself, simply due to a future of minimum wage, part-time work) I think “how many slaves/serfs/employees toiled in vain to provide the surplus for that?” the stones of the very buildings are mortared with their life’s blood, and unless they are cathedrals, it was all for the comfort and enjoyment of the master class.

    1. AnonMe

      Re: Sharing:
      Just watched a highly recommended documentary called “I AM” on Netflix.

      Many insights about the hue-man condition and the “truths” we are “sold”.

      One in particular…
      – In Darwin’s book, he wrote the words

      ….”survival of the fittest”
      ….just 2 Times.

      … The word “LOVE” 98 times.
      THINK about it.

      Also “co-operation” – which Darwin discovered that societies and people in general survived… by helping each other out…

      NOW, who censored his book – or simply highlighted areas “they” wanted us to “see”… vs. our own intellect?
      The obscure we see eventually.
      The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer.
      ~Edward R. Murrow

      1. GusFarmer

        Right. Fortunately, there ARE biologists who challenge that competition-based mantra by noting natural selection ALSO created and favors cooperation far more than it does aggression. Nature is NOT “red in tooth and claw” as Hobbes opined.

    2. Timothy Gawne

      “The myth of progress” – yes!

      Recent research has shown that in post-Black Death Europe, the standard of living was considerably higher than modern third-world countries! (see “British Economic Growth 1270-1870”, by S. Broadberry, B. Campbell, A, Klein, M. Overton, and B. van Leeuwen, 2010).

      Think about this for a while: Europe at the end of the dark ages, with primitive technology, had a significantly higher standard of living than a modern country like India or Egypt that has computers, satellites, chemical fertilizers, and all the other advances of modern technology.

      Mind you, I am a great fan of technology – but – even the most sophisticated technology can be overwhelmed by exponential population growth. This is not a conjecture, it is an established historical fact.

      As important as technology is, other factors – demographic, social, legal, etc. – are of primary importance in the standard of living.

  15. anon y'mouse

    another aside:

    my two younger siblings are both part Indian. I was raised partially in that social setting. the reason that Indian people can see “communism” clearly is because of the traditional family structure, based around sharing of resources and accomplishing goals within that unit. that model is gradually wearing away due to the modern world, as far as I can tell, but it is still highly present even in our imported workforce here, who first-chance-they-get send away for mom & dad who tend the homefires and keep the children while mom & dad are working away at two well-paid middle or higher class jobs.

    social arrangements in the family support goals, but those goals are not set in the individualistic fashion that ours are. from what you study in school to your eventual marriage partner, actions are considered from a more strategic mindset, and the family tends to pull together to achieve this.

    there’s that saying that it takes 3 generations to make a doctor, using each generation like a stepping stone of consolidation of resources and extending networks. I would say that there is a lot of truth in that saying. the problem is, we can’t all be doctors at once. progress and its limitations strikes again!

  16. susan the other

    I’ve never heard Prashad before. He just makes such obvious good sense. The thing he said that made me stop and rewind was that, effectively, socialism – that is the socialization of survival like health care, food, water, education, etc – prevents inflation because the destitute worker, who must otherwise bear the burden of all these survival expenses, can go to work for a lower wage. We need to hear more discussion of this very point. And his other insights about the lack of meaning and joy in our world are critical to denouncing the stranglehold on all economies by the private property-power elites. I really do not think that the US is any more good natured that the “humorless” USSR was, we have just cajoled people into consumerism, which gives us all the appearance of being happy – that is, when we have any money left over. To change this “system” will be interesting. I keep hoping it will come when people become so disheartened that they simply don’t buy things anymore. Quit driving cars. Only work for subsistence and effectively drop out. But I would rather see big change happen much faster.

    1. Klassy!

      Susan, sometimes when I’m driving my car I feel the need to punish myself. I accomplish this by listening to NPR. So, the other day I’m listening to the thoroughly awful Fresh Air. They have some ex tech executive that is now the director of a food pantry (or something like that). Gross Terry Gross questioned her about frustration and the intractibility of poverty. This point was not raised in the context of “capitalism by design must have losers”. That point would never be raised.
      The food pantry lady was all like “yes, it is difficult that lack of education or poor health traps people in poverty…”
      I wanted to reach into my radio and strangle the both of them.

    2. LucyLulu

      Susan the other wrote: “we have just cajoled people into consumerism, which gives us all the appearance of being happy”

      Yes, yes, yes! What I see though is that while these people might have bought all the gadgets, flashy cars, and classic clothes, happiness seems to be elusive. They always need more ‘stuff’, i.e. once you’re a million dollar a year C-suite exec at JPM, then there is Dimon’s lifestyle you can aspire to. I wish I had such problems! ;=) (not really)

  17. Banger

    Really, we need an open discussion on all matters and we don’t have it in this society any more than the Soviets had. We dissidents however can discuss things without fear of retribution of the state at least not yet. But our discussion goes no further and why it goes no further, i.e., why the vast majority of the American people are opposed to the left (the real left, not the phony liberal-left) is really the starting point of any leftist-oriented action or dynamic discussion.

  18. Henry

    Caitalism and communism are just two aspects of a same basic mentality. The comparison with Pygmy and other close to the land traditional tribal societies is ludicrous. Modern societies are extraordinarily complex, machine-age societies, industrial societies, predatory societies, numbering billions, heterogeneous, urbanized, etc. etc. The fact that the Indians (India) couldn’t discern the essential in communism and thought they could just take the so-called “good parts” is testament to the typical two-headed mentality of contemporary Asians. Apparently, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Tibet, Pol Pot, Myanmar, and the like are not proof enough of the essential inhuman and properly sinister nature of communism, just as, apparently, two world wars, and a host of others since, and a rotten social fabric are not enough to show the essentially inhuman and sinister nature of capitalism. The entire modern project is morally and spiritiually bankrupt, a catastrophic deviation from the human norm; but of course this notion is met with jeers and scoffing from the true believers, who are unwilling to face a world in dissolution and in the hands of criminals.

    1. Banger

      Well, in a way modern society is a disaster in the sense that it is a completely new phenomena in human history. We are not equipped to live the way we do and the whole project is not sustainable. There are two basic directions: 1) moving towards the “singularity” which would essentially incorporate human culture within the machine framework or 2) a “taming” of the machine framework (whether it is actual AI, robotics or systems/bureaucracies) withing a spiritualized framework. The tension between the two forces will, ultimately, be the main political dynamic in our future world. Rebellion or dissent has to reject option 1 and embrace option 2 in my view or just fuggedaboutit.

      Communism and capitalism both treat people as objects with a goal to actually make them objects. This is the tragedy of radical materialism that dominates our era.

  19. Timothy Gawne

    Yes! The whole idea is how to force workers (‘peasants’) to a life of wage slavery.

    Historically there has been one technique for doing that that towers over all the others: forced population growth. Nobody beats the law of supply and demand: when there are 100 desperate starving people competing for every job then wages are at a minimum, and the profits – and social power! – of the rich are maximized. But discussion of this has been almost completely censored from the mainstream public debate for one simple reason: because it is true.

    You might consider these words by perhaps the last decent person in the US Congress.

    1. LucyLulu

      Why must there be 100 desperate starving people competing for each job when we live in a country that has an abundant food supply, ample enough to feed all who live here and then some. Why must the ‘richest’ nation in the world have such a disproportionate number of people living in poverty?

      The U.S. doesn’t have a problem of insufficient resources to provide for all, it’s a problem of allocation of those resources. There is gross disparity with an increasingly smaller percentage scooping up an increasingly larger percentage. You don’t question this reality.

      1. anon y'mouse

        respectfully, you are right. but you cannot avoid real, ecological limits. since we have a surplus which the owners are syphoning off while leaving the rest of us in relative penury, it is easy to assume that the problem is not population but distribution.

        meanwhile, the natural environment around the globe is ravaged and pillaged to provide this meager subsistence for most of us and lavish for the greatest.

        I would say, overpopulation does not help matters even if it isn’t the “root cause” of current inequality. It definitely does not help the unemployed while looking for a job, though. also, expect inequality to get worse as real scarcity increases. the rich will pay their armies to take the clean water and good farmland and keep it for themselves. their armies will, like the master’s dog, gladly take the scrap from massah’s table, being thankful while the rest of us starve.

  20. anon y'mouse

    in this segment, they discuss menial work and in the main page’s links there is a brief discussion by some (scary capitalist managerial-type) ‘social workers’ about its value.

    I was astounded many years ago when viewing a documentary re: Japan’s education system that they had all of the students engage in cleaning the school. this simple act creates a psychological and moral feedback loop against littering and for proper care of the environment around you.

    here, our military used to have latrine duty. now, that work is subcontracted out. no one that I have ever talked with who had children would countenance their own kids cleaning the school classroom (“I don’t send them there so they can learn housekeeping”). I would say that kids that do are getting vital lessons in the real work of life, that they will care more about the effects of their actions on the environment and others–those responsible for cleaning it up–and possibly even get a little vital exercise. not only that, but teamwork and a whole host of other fortunate beneficial socializing experiences.

    doesn’t hindu religion/philosophy cast every form of work as an act of worship? we need to be bringing this back.

    1. LucyLulu

      I have a personal anecdote to illustrate your story nicely.

      My ex-husband was an executive at a large insurance company. I commented to him once during a fight over division of labor that e.g. he had not once during our marriage ever cleaned a toilet. His very serious reply was “People like me don’t clean toilets.”

      Need I say more? (BTW, not so coincidentally, that was a few months before the end of the marriage, as I DID clean toilets. I liked him much better when we were struggling to make ends meet.)

  21. LucyLulu

    Thank you, Yves, for an unusually thought-provoking article, as evidenced by my prolific comments.

    In particular, I liked the ideas about workers being freed to do work they enjoy. I know and encounter few people who seem to enjoy doing their jobs. As someone above commented, it is more common though in those who have higher incomes, probably both as a cause and an effect.

    I have been fortunate much of my life to be in a position where compensation could be a secondary concern when seeking employment, having alternate sources of income, e.g. ex-husband above making sufficient income, and fortunately currently investment and disability income are enough for fairly frugal existence as I’ve been unemployed since 2009 (disabled have 50% unemployment rate, much higher I’m sure in my areas of training……. and yes, there is discrimination, but try to prove it). Anyways, I’ve mostly had jobs I loved and consider myself very lucky. I think as a result, I did excellent work and piled up excellent references. My last job paid the same wages I’d made 15 years earlier, but required 60 hrs/week to make those same wages I’d made in 40 hrs (salaried vs. hourly). I’d happily accept even less today because I loved going to work (alas unable to handle the hours). The patients said I was the best nurse they’d ever had when I left yet I have no particular special talent. I’ve worked with others who are more natural fits. I often struggled to get it right but put in that extra effort because I did love the work.

    I think we’ve all encountered those people you can tell really like what they do, and know what a pleasure it is to deal with them. Imagine if we had a society where everyone loved their work. There would be so much more productivity and creativity. Instead of our current stressed-out society with comparatively high rates of drug use, mental illness, physical violence and homicide, and incarceration rates, not only the workers, but everyone coming into contact with them, would feel happier, more secure, and more relaxed.

    One can dream……. perhaps if not my children’s generation, my (future…. yes dears, you will have children, mother has spoken) grandchildren’s???

    1. psychohistorian

      Some of us are 60+ and have/will not be making children or grandchildren but still feel responsible to the society for the children’s future.

      1. LucyLulu

        God bless you! The world is fortunate to have people like you that still care about those who follow.

        Sometimes I think it’s hard to find anybody who cares about somebody besides themselves, and perhaps their immediate family.

  22. allcoppedout

    I’m already in the camp that wants to talk and act on underlying structures (biologically or socially constructed – hardly a difference now in genetic study considering such as ‘self-domestication’). The big one is almost certainly the structure of argument itself – the common scientific notion now is we are designed to win argument and need to recognise that to have proper dialogue. Human brains have shrunk 10-15% in the last 30 – 40,000 years and we begin to look like an “immature species” (but look this up rather than rest on any standard definition of ‘immature’). Much science does not get through to social dialogue because people conflate truth like ‘men are biologically stronger than women’ (only in some ways being forgotten) with therefore women are rightly second-class citizens’.

    The common thread in Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Phot and others is not communism or socialism but psychotic leadership and followership. Another is state capitalism.

    Our own free trade has historically needed vastly superior armies and navies to ‘remain free’, as well as all kinds of diplomacy, subsidy (e.g. what subsidises banks?) and trade agreements to sell high profit margin manufactures and now finance into freely restricted markets of subsidiary markets.

    It’s dire and the evidence is clear – so how do we end up with such skewed public debate, and how can this continue to pretend to be unbiased, balanced reporting? There have been powerful arguments about this too, from before Quine’s (1953) piece on 3 problems with empiricism (evidence impinges on world-views in the individual and the first impulse is to protect that, not change the world-view.

    The esoteric debate on this leads many to relativism and that root metaphors in paradigm language mean, say, Steve Keen may as well not do debate with neo-classicals as the root views are incommensurate and they can never find anything to agree without changing them – Wittgenstein says this is just what we may need to change and both sides may be making the same mistaken assumptions despite the apparent differences.

    Key terms like ‘leadership’ crop up regularly in political debate, yet look at the parade of sickos in the beauty contest over history – if you could without the false heroics of literature, printing legends and ‘kings and queens’ history. Barbara Kellerman’s ‘The End of Leadership’ is good on what all this is.

    The problem is we are forever asking people to read more, drop the chronic superiority of ‘Mexico’s’ white racism and much most cling to dearly as in peculiar interests in royal babies, scandals and other news fodder.

    In bald terms, neo-liberalism has been a vile experiment no ethics committee would have allowed. Unemployment (meaning poverty and debt for many – death in some places) as a lever to control inflation, financialisation (meaning many sitting around in neurotic, non-productive ‘work’ stealing a huge cut for the rich) to maintain profit harvest real work no longer provided – these are surely experiments as much as any by Stalin or Mao.

    There are ways through this – but try and maintain interest anywhere on what fair discussion actually might be. Thanks Yves – always good to know ‘there are others’!

  23. MRW

    I am going to watch the first in this series. Really enjoyed it.

    I was in Russia long before Russia broke up and Prashad and Paul Jay are correct about the joy part of it, although it was experienced privately in houses, behind closed doors, cloaked, at dinner time. The sense of being watched was greater and was a much more pernicious constrictor, like the sense I get now from street cameras and the ridiculous utterances from Alexander, Clapper, and Obama about why we need X more of it for the security of the nation. The watchfulness was 10X worse in Moscow and St Petersburg then, even though people streamed into the Bolshoi and the Kirov at 5 PM after work with their bottles of vodka and loaves of black bread in paper bags for two hours before going home. The equivalent of the NYC neighborhood bar. It was an elated two hours in those four-tier theatres. It was like a description of the Groundlings at the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare’s time. The people talked back and cheered on their favorite characters, or called out to the prima ballerina.

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