the shittiness of things

Category: Theory

Libertarians Parodying Themselves

If this unintentionally funny op-ed hadn’t been published on the website of the libertarian think tank Ludwig von Mises Institute, I would be dead sure that this is satire. Apparently one libertarian is really trying to sell us the evil Scrooge of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” as the actual good guy, who just has been totally misunderstood:

>>So let’s look without preconceptions at Scrooge’s allegedly underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit. The fact is, if Cratchit’s skills were worth more to anyone than the fifteen shillings Scrooge pays him weekly, there would be someone glad to offer it to him. Since no one has, and since Cratchit’s profit-maximizing boss is hardly a man to pay for nothing, Cratchit must be worth exactly his present wages.

No doubt Cratchit needs—i.e., wants—more, to support his family and care for Tiny Tim. But Scrooge did not force Cratchit to father children he is having difficulty supporting. If Cratchit had children while suspecting he would be unable to afford them, he, not Scrooge, is responsible for their plight. And if Cratchit didn’t know how expensive they would be, why must Scrooge assume the burden of Cratchit’s misjudgment?

As for that one lump of coal Scrooge allows him, it bears emphasis that Cratchit has not been chained to his chilly desk. If he stays there, he shows by his behavior that he prefers his present wages-plus-comfort package to any other he has found, or supposes himself likely to find. Actions speak louder than grumbling, and the reader can hardly complain about what Cratchit evidently finds satisfactory.

More notorious even than his miserly ways are Scrooge’s cynical words. “Are there no prisons,” he jibes when solicited for charity, “and the Union workhouses?”

Terrible, right? Lacking in compassion?

Not necessarily. As Scrooge observes, he supports those institutions with his taxes. Already forced to help those who can’t or won’t help themselves, it is not unreasonable for him to balk at volunteering additional funds for their extra comfort.

Scrooge is skeptical that many would prefer death to the workhouse, and he is unmoved by talk of the workhouse’s cheerlessness. He is right to be unmoved, for society’s provisions for the poor must be, well, Dickensian. The more pleasant the alternatives to gainful employment, the greater will be the number of people who seek these alternatives, and the fewer there will be who engage in productive labor. If society expects anyone to work, work had better be a lot more attractive than idleness.

The normally taciturn Scrooge lets himself go a bit when Cratchit hints that he would like a paid Christmas holiday. “It’s not fair,” Scrooge objects, a charge not met by Cratchet’s patently irrelevant protest that Christmas comes but once a year. Unfair it is, for Cratchit would doubtless object to a request for a day’s uncompensated labor, “and yet,” as Scrooge shrewdly points out, “you don’t think me ill used when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”

Cratchit has apparently forgotten the golden rule. (Or is it that Scrooge has so much more than Cratchit that the golden rule does not come into play? But Scrooge doesn’t think he has that much, and shouldn’t he have a say in the matter?)

Scrooge’s first employer, good old Fezziwig, was a lot freer with a guinea—he throws his employees a Christmas party. What the Ghost of Christmas Past does not explain is how Fezziwig afforded it. Did he attempt to pass the added costs to his customers? Or did young Scrooge pay for it anyway by working for marginally lower wages?

The biggest of the Big Lies about Scrooge is the pointlessness of his pursuit of money. “Wealth is of no use to him. He doesn’t do any good with it,” opines ruddy nephew Fred.

Wrong on both counts. Scrooge apparently lends money, and to discover the good he does one need only inquire of the borrowers. Here is a homeowner with a new roof, and there a merchant able to finance a shipment of tea, bringing profit to himself and happiness to tea drinkers, all thanks to Scrooge.

Dickens doesn’t mention Scrooge’s satisfied customers, but there must have been plenty of them for Scrooge to have gotten so rich.<<

And this is just an excerpt. I won’t waste time debunking every nonsense in there but will instead cite the American anarchist Alexander Berkman, who did not only show the absurdity of the op-ed above long before it has been published but who did also show the inconsistency of libertarianism in general long before it was called by this name:

>>The law says that your employer does not steal anything from you, because it is done with your consent. You have agreed to work for your boss for certain pay, he to have all that you produce. Because you consented to it, the law says that he does not steal anything from you.

But did you really consent?

When the highwayman holds his gun to your head, you turn your valuables over to him. You ‘consent’ all right, but you do so because you cannot help yourself, because you are compelled by his gun.

Are you not compelled to work for an employer? Your need compels you, just as the highwayman’s gun. You must live, and so must your wife and children. You can’t work for yourself, under the capitalist industrial system you must work for an employer. The factories, machinery, and tools belong to the employing class, so you must hire yourself out to that class in order to work and live. Whatever you work at, whoever your employer may be, it always comes to the same: you must work for him. You can’t help yourself You are compelled.

In this way the whole working class is compelled to work for the capitalist class. In this manner the workers are compelled to give up all the wealth they produce. The employers keep that wealth as their profit, while the worker gets only a wage, just enough to live on, so he can go on producing more wealth for his employer. Is that not cheating, robbery?

The law says it is a ‘free agreement’. Just as well might the highwayman say that you ‘agreed’ to give up your valuables. The only difference is that the highwayman’s way is called stealing and robbery, and is forbidden by law. While the capitalist way is called business, industry, profit making, and is protected by law. […]

You depend on your employer for your wages or your salary, don’t you? And your wages determine your way of living, don’t they? The conditions of your life, even what you eat and drink, where you go and with whom you associate, – all of it depends on your wages.

No, you are not a free man. You are dependent on your employer and on your wages. You are really a wage slave.

The whole working class, under the capitalist system, is dependent on the capitalist class. The workers are wage slaves.

So, what becomes of your freedom? What can you do with it? Can you do more with it than your wages permit?

Can’t you see that your wage – your salary or income – is all the freedom that you have? Your freedom, your liberty, don’t go a step further than the wages you get.

The freedom that is given you on paper, that is written down in law books and constitutions, does not do you a bit of good. Such freedom only means that you have the right to do a certain thing. But it doesn’t mean that you can do it. To be able to do it, you must have the chance, the opportunity. You have a right to eat three fine meals a day, but if you haven’t the means, the opportunity to get those meals, then what good is that right to you?

So freedom really means opportunity to satisfy your needs and wants. If your freedom does not give you that opportunity, than it does you no good. Real freedom means opportunity and well being. If it does not mean that, it means nothing.<<


The Respectable Anti-Semitism

“The respectable anti-Semitism” (“Der ehrbahre Antisemitismus”) is an essay by Jean Améry, a resistance fighter, Auschwitz survivor and Austrian essayist, who is mostly known for his philosophical reflections on his own torture by the Gestapo, his time of imprisonment in several concentration camps, the process of aging and the act of suicide (he committed suicide himself in 1978). This essay has been originally been published in the German weekly Die Zeit in 1969, two years after the Six-Day War. Although he associated himself with the radical Left, he was highly critical of the anti-Semitic tendencies of the German Left and he was one of the very first among progressive intellectuals, who have addressed left-wing anti-Semitism. Despite the fact that “The respectable anti-Semitism” has been written more than 40 years ago, it is still highly topical and accurate. This essay was one of the major influences during the time when I’ve critically reflected and reconsidered my prejudiced and dogmatist views on Israel and the Middle East conflict and it has played a prominent role in my political maturing process during high school. It was quite hard to find a decent translation, which doesn’t deform Améry’s writing style (as a translation attempt of my own would have certainly done), but I’ve finally found one here.

De Gaulle fell. Some felt bleak like a Heinian grenadier: so did I, so did I. But unfortunately, that in New York to the French UNO – delegate Armand Bérard occurred nothing better than exclaiming desperately (according to the „Nouvel Observateur“from the 5th of May): „C’est l’or juif!“. And no dementi. Right hand, left hand, everything mixed up. The anti-Semitism accomplishes it and, to speak with Stefan George „… er reisst in den Ring.“ The classic phenomenon of anti-Semitism takes an actual shape. The old one keeps existing, that’s what I call co-existence. What was, stays and will stay. The slouchnosed, slouchleged Jew, that from something –what do I say?- from everything runs away. Like this he is to be seen on the Affichen and the pamphlets of the Arab propaganda, in which so said brown gentlemen with German native tongue, well concealed with Arab names, shall as well profit. But the new ideas that stepped onto the stage right after the 6-days-war and prevailed slowly: The Israeli oppressor, who with the brazenly forward stepping of the oppressing legionnaire tramples down peaceful Palestinian land. Anti-Israelism, anti-Zionism in the purest mutual consent with the anti-Semitism from the old days. The brazenly forward stepping oppressor-legionnaire and the slouchleged runaway don’t molest each other. How finally the pictures are similar to each other!

But new is, indeed, the establishing of the as anti-Israelism feigning Anti-Semitism on the Left. Once this was the socialism of the stupid guys. Today it is about to become an integrating ingredient of socialism as such, and thereby every socialist makes himself by his free will a stupid guy. The process can profitably be read in the already more than a year ago in France by Pauvert published book: „La Gauche contre Israel“ of Givet. But it is sufficient to discern certain road marks, for example to read one by the magazine “Konkret” published reportage: “Die dritte Front” (The third front). “Ist Israel ein Polizeistaat?” (Is Israel a police state?) is written in the title link. The question is just a rhetorical one. Of course Israel is such. And Napalm and blown houses of peaceful Arab farmers and Arab-pogroms in the streets of Jerusalem. One is being well versed. It is like in Vietnam or like it once was in Algeria. The slouchleged runaway turns naturally out as the terror spreading goliath.
It is being spoken of the Left, and by no way only of the still more or less orthodox communist parties of the west or even of the politics of the states of the socialist bloc. For these the anti-Israelism, plugged onto the traditional anti-Semitism of the Slavic peoples, belongs very simply to the strategy and tactics of a so or so given political constellation. The stars don’t lie, the Gomulkas know, what they can bank upon. C’est de bonne guerre! About this no word is to be lost!

Worse is, that the intellectual Left, that knows itself free from every party-attachment, adopts this picture. Many years one has – to talk about Germany – celebrated the Israeli armed farmers and the snazzy girls in uniforms. In bad currency some feelings of guilt got ablated. That had to become boring. Luckily, that the Jew for one time was not burned, but stood as the imperious victor, as occupier. Napalm and so on. A taking breath went through the country. Everyone could speak like the “Deutsche National- und Soldatenzeitung” (German National and Soldiers Newspaper). Who stood left, was empowered even to execute the jargon of engagement routinely. Being definite is: The anti-Semitism, contained in the anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism like the thunder in the cloud, is once more honourable. It can speak vulgar, then it is called “Criminal state of Israel”. It can do it in the mannerly way and speak of the “bridgehead of Imperialism”, and on that occasion incidentally allude on the misunderstood solidarity, that binds almost all Jews, not considering some laudable exceptions, to the dwarf-state, and one can find it outrageous, that the Parisian Baron Rothschild demands the Israel-donations of the French population as taxes. Easy on the anti-Semitism it is in any case. The emotional infrastructure exists and in no way only on Poland or Hungary. The anti-Semite “demystifies” the pioneer-state with complacency. It comes to his mind that behind this state-creation at any time stood capitalism in form of the Jewish plutocracy: He does not get closer on this last-mentioned, that would be an ideological lapsus linguae, but still – c’est l’or juif! – nobody can be deceived about the real constitution of a country, that was born out of a bad idea, constructed in a bad place, fought one or more bad wars and won. Misunderstandings are to be excluded by any means. I know as good as anyone and everyone, that Israel objectively has got the joyless role as an occupying power. To justify everything, that the diverse governments of Israel undertake, doesn’t come to my mind. My personal relations to this country about which Thomas Mann said in the Josef-Tetralogy, that it was a „Mittelmeer-Land, nicht gerade heimatlich, etwas staubig und steinig (a Mediterranean country, not really homey, a bit dusty and stony), are quasi zero: Never have I visited it, I don’t speak it’s language, it’s culture is alien to me in an embarrassing way, it’s religion is not mine. Nevertheless is the existing of its statehood more important to me than of any other.

And hereby we get to the point, where it has an end of every narrative or analyzing objectivity and where engagement is no longer a freely chosen commitment, but a cause of existence, the word understood in several meanings. About Israel, the fashionable anti-Israelism, the old-fashioned, but still into every fashion sneaking anti-Semitism speaks existentially subjectively, who by any means “belongs to it”
(„Juden, Personen, die im Sinne des Reichsbürgergesetzes vom 15. September 1935 als Juden gelten“) (“Jews, persons, who are considered such in the sense of the Reichs Citizen law of the 15th of September 1935”) – and finally reaches, perhaps just because of this, an objectivity of almost natural law character. Hence in the end the most thinking history (Geistesgeschichte) disembogues – just as the most thorough and the most clever consideration into the cognition, that this pioneer-country, and may it be a hundred times, following a perverted pseudo-Marxist theory, in the state of sin of technological high development, is among all states of this geopolitical area the most endangered. Victory, Victory and once more Victory: A catastrophe is threatening, and you cannot even avoid it, if you run straight into it and make Israel a part of a Palestinian federation.

The Arab states, whom I wish luck and peace, will catch up with the Israeli technological edge, one day. Their demographic pressure will do the rest. By any means it is about obtaining the state of Israel as long, until peace, economic and technological prerequisites have placed the Arabs into a general state of mind, that allows them the recognition of Israel within secure borders.

It is about that. To whom? The subjective constitution, which wants to be historical objectivity, has got her interference here. The existence of Israel is essential for all Jews (“Jews, persons, in the sense…” and so on), wherever they may live. „Wird man mich zwingen, Johnson hochleben zu lassen? Ich bin bereit dazu“ (Will you make me cheer Johnson? I am ready for that!) shouted on the evening before the six-days-war the leftwing radical French publicist and Sartre-student Claude Lanzmann. He knew, what he meant and wanted. Hence every Jew is a “catastrophe-Jew”, being on the mercy of a catastrophic fait, if he realizes it or not. “Run, pale Jew!” the Black-Panther men write on the shops and houses of Jewish mongers in Harlem and forget with an easy heart the old alliance, that in the USA chains the Jew to the Negro, and which even the most grungy bourgeois-Jewish trader did not betray. Who guarantees, that not once a government of the United States feeds the Jews to the Negroes in a great feast of conciliation? What vouches for the influential and partly rich Jews of France, that not one day the heirs of Drumont, Maurras, Xavier Vallat reach new virulence? Who advocates, that not to Mr. Strauss’s head, once being in power, comes something, after what a certain newspaper-tycoon will reconsider giving further easy donations to an easily ready to the reception Israeli government? Nobody guarantees nothing. This is no paranoid fantasy and is more than the general human sense of danger. The past, the youngest, burns.

And now every friend of the Left will tell me, I as well would join the great army of those, who with six million (or five or four if you want) murdered push opinion blackmailing. That risk is to be taken: It is smaller than the other, that friends propose to me, when they plead for the self-surrender of the “Zionist” Israel.

The demand of practical-political reason goes towards the solidarity of a Left, that does not want to abandon itself (without having to ignore the terrible fait of the Arab refugees), to extend on Israel, yes, to concentrate around Israel. The commandment has got for the non-Jewish man of the Left not the same commitment like for Jews, either him standing left, middle, right or nowhere. From the Left you can retreat; From the so-being as Jew nobody dismisses you, that was already known to the early anti-Semite Lanz-Liebenfels. Of course the left has got its own unwritten moral laws, which it must not bend. “Where there is a stronger, always on the side of the weaker”, what a unavoidably true triviality! And stronger – who dares counter-response? – that are the Arabs; stronger in number, stronger in oil, stronger in Dollars, one should ask at Aramco and in Kuwait, stronger, in any case, with future potential.

The Left however looks obviously spellbound onto the brave Palestinian partisans, that of course are poorer than the men of Moshe Dayan. It does not see, that despite Rothschild and a prosperous American-Jewish middle-class the Jew is still in a worse situation than Franz Fanon’s colonized, sees this as little as the phenomenon of the anti-Imperialist Jewish freedom fight, that has been fought against England. In the end Israel as well is not to be blamed, when the Soviet Union forgot, what in 1948 Gromky presented with a beautiful Vibrato before the UNO: “What concerns the Jewish state, so its existence is already a fact, may it please or not (…) The delegation of the USSR can not abstain from expressing their astonishment about the views of the Arab states in the Palestinian question. Especially we are surprised to see, that these states or at least some of them have decided, to take military measures with the target, to destroy the national liberation movement of the Jews. We cannot identify the vital interests of the peoples of the middle-east with the statements of certain Arab politicians and Arab governments, that we witness now.”

This way spoke, like mentioned, the Soviet Union, a great power which drives great power politics and which supposedly a la longue can not disregard from the open fact, that there are more Arabs than Jews, there is more Arab oil than Jewish, that military thresholds in the Arab states have a higher strategic value than ones in Israel. The Left in a broad and in the broadest sense however, and particularly the protesting most extreme Left, that I know myself attached to in long ways, does not have this great power excuse. It is, with the rule, with which it started off, obliged to the reason; to the reason of the tragic weakness of the Jewish state and every single Jew in the Diaspora, to the insight into that, what is being hidden behind the scenery of a Jewish-bourgeois middle-class, behind the myth of the money and gold-Jew (starting with Jud Süss up to the contemporary Rothschild and some few Jewish Hollywood magnitudes). The Jews manipulate sometimes capitals; they never dominate them. They have today in the Wall Street as little to say as once in the wilhelminian Germany in the Heavy Industry.

The state Israel today is as little a bulwark of capitalism, as it was, when the first pioneers dug up the soil, as little as the Arab states can be reasonably considered as progressive. The Left closes, that is the misery, the eyes. Chance plays in this very moment a text of Hans Blüher into my hands: ”Eine wirkliche Geschichte Europas dürfte nicht so geschrieben werden, wie das bisher geschah, dass nämlich ein Jude einmal hie und da anekdotenhaft vorkommt …, vielmehr müsste die Darstellung so sein, dass dauernd die geschichtliche Macht des Judentums als eines latenten und ständig mitspielenden Reiches sichtbar wird.” (A real history of Europe must not be written, like it happened until now, namely that a Jew here and there is to be found like an anecdote…, instead the presentation should be like this, that all the time the historical power of Jewishhood as a latent and all the time part taking empire becomes visible). This text could stand word by word in one of the numerous pseudo-intellectual Arab publications, with which the press is being flooded. And to von Blüher – but von Streicher as well, because in any place the anti-Semitism levels the intellectual differences in height – could go back, what the secretary of education of the progressive state of Syria wrote to the General Director of UNESCO: “The hatred, that we stick to our children’s minds, is a holy hatred.” It would all hardly be worth the note, and the foolish Blueher could sleep in the peace of oblivion, if the western-European intellectual left (including some by self-hatred mutilated Jews like Maxim Rodinson) had not seized this vocabulary and adopted the by the vocabulary imparted system of norms.

If out of the historical catastrophe of the Jewish respectively anti-Semite question, to which may as well belong the foundation of the existing state of Israel, again the idea of a Jewish guilt is being constructed, then the responsibility for this bears the Left, that forgets itself. “The anti-Zionism is a from the start reactionary phenomenon, that is being disguised by the revolutionary, progressive, anti-colonial phrases about Israel”, stated recently Robert Misrahi, a french philosopher, who, like the earlier mentioned Claude Lanzmann, belongs to the wider Sartre-family.

The moment of a revision and new intellectual self-discussion of the Left has come; because it is it that gives back a unhonorable dialectic respectability to anti-Semitism. The alliance of the anti-Semitic petty bourgeois Stammtisch and the barricades is against the nature, sin against the intellect, to remain in the by the topic compelled terminology. People like the polish general Moczar can permit themselves the forgery of the crude anti-Semitism to the actual anti-Israelism: The Left has to be more honest. There is no respectable anti-Semitism. Like Sartre said year and day ago in his “Considerations towards the Jewish question”: “What the anti-Semite wishes and prepares, is the death of the Jew.”

The Widespread Misconception Of Marx’s Labour Theory Of Value

I found a nice piece about the most common misconceptions about Marxism written by Unlearning Economics. Especially the part about Marx’s Labour Theory of Value is worth reading:

>>The Labour Theory of Value (LTV) states that the “value” of a commodity is determined by the “socially necessary labour time” embodied in it (“socially necessary” to avoid the nonsensical idea that somebody who makes something slowly will contribute more value than somebody who makes the same thing, but faster). To the extent that ‘capital’ (machines, raw materials etc) contribute toward this value, it is only in the necessary labour time required to produce that capital. Hence, only labour can ‘add’ value, and therefore surplus is produced by workers, while capitalists are parasitic, receiving profit only because they pay their workers less than the workers produce.

Now, contrary to what many – including some Marxists – insist, the LTV is not a theory of price. Sure, thinkers from Adam Smith to David Ricardo, and to a certain extent Marx himself (at least initially), tried to work it out as such. But the finished product, as espoused by Marx and Engels, had nothing to do with price. Instead, it was a theory of the total value in capitalist economies: where the surplus came from (exploitation) and how the changes in the production of this surplus would manifest themselves (periodic crises). Marx made this much clear in a response to critic, who charged that his theory of value was erroneous because prices are also a function of demand:

“What has this to do with my theory of value? To the degree that corn is sold above its value, other commodities…are, to the same degree, sold below their value. The sum of values remains the same.”

Hence, the theory can only predict the total value produced in a capitalist economy, while individual prices can vary based on monopoly, demand or whatever else. This is what led Eugene Bohm-Bahwerk to call Marx’s theory “tautological”; similarly, philosopher Karl Popper famously argued that such statements made Marxism unfalsifiable.

However, there is a clear criterion for testing Marx’s theory: the declining rate of profit. If there is observed a short term tendency of the rate of profit to fall – due to capitalists substituting capital for labour, hence reducing their surplus per unit of cost – manifesting itself in periodic crises, this is consistent with Marx’s theory. If not; if, say, the rate of profit increases before recessions, this would falsify the theory.* To paraphrase commenter Hedlund, if we cut through the nonsense and merely ask the question “is what Marx called value, itself a function of necessary labour time, the major parameter underlying the motion of the economy?” then we have an empirical inquiry, and can dispense with the metaphysical confusion, at least for the purposes of science. For those interested, the Marxist economist Andrew Kliman has taken up this challenge.<<