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Discussion => Philosophy, Economics and Justice => Topic started by: EarlyCuylerTOR on March 26, 2013, 09:24 pm

Title: Can civilization survive capitalism?
Post by: EarlyCuylerTOR on March 26, 2013, 09:24 pm

Can Civilization Survive Capitalism?

By Noam Chomsky

11 March, 2013

There is “capitalism” and then there is “really existing capitalism.”

The term “capitalism” is commonly used to refer to the U.S. economic system, with substantial state intervention ranging from subsidies for creative innovation to the “too-big-to-fail” government insurance policy for banks.

The system is highly monopolized, further limiting reliance on the market, and increasingly so: In the past 20 years the share of profits of the 200 largest enterprises has risen sharply, reports scholar Robert W. McChesney in his new book Digital Disconnect.

“Capitalism” is a term now commonly used to describe systems in which there are no capitalists: for example, the worker-owned Mondragon conglomerate in the Basque region of Spain, or the worker-owned enterprises expanding in northern Ohio, often with conservative support—both are discussed in important work by the scholar Gar Alperovitz.

Some might even use the term “capitalism” to refer to the industrial democracy advocated by John Dewey, America's leading social philosopher, in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Dewey called for workers to be “masters of their own industrial fate” and for all institutions to be brought under public control, including the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Short of this, Dewey argued, politics will remain “the shadow cast on society by big business.”

The truncated democracy that Dewey condemned has been left in tatters in recent years. Now control of government is narrowly concentrated at the peak of the income scale, while the large majority “down below” has been virtually disenfranchised. The current political-economic system is a form of plutocracy, diverging sharply from democracy, if by that concept we mean political arrangements in which policy is significantly influenced by the public will.

There have been serious debates over the years about whether capitalism is compatible with democracy. If we keep to really existing capitalist democracy—RECD for short—the question is effectively answered: They are radically incompatible.

It seems to me unlikely that civilization can survive RECD and the sharply attenuated democracy that goes along with it. But could functioning democracy make a difference?

Let's keep to the most critical immediate problem that civilization faces: environmental catastrophe. Policies and public attitudes diverge sharply, as is often the case under RECD. The nature of the gap is examined in several articles in the current issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Researcher Kelly Sims Gallagher finds that “One hundred and nine countries have enacted some form of policy regarding renewable power, and 118 countries have set targets for renewable energy. In contrast, the United States has not adopted any consistent and stable set of policies at the national level to foster the use of renewable energy.”

It is not public opinion that drives American policy off the international spectrum. Quite the opposite. Opinion is much closer to the global norm than the U.S. government's policies reflect, and much more supportive of actions needed to confront the likely environmental disaster predicted by an overwhelming scientific consensus—and one that's not too far off; affecting the lives of our grandchildren, very likely.

As Jon A. Krosnick and Bo MacInnis report in Daedalus: “Huge majorities have favored steps by the federal government to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated when utilities produce electricity. In 2006, 86 percent of respondents favored requiring utilities, or encouraging them with tax breaks, to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they emit. Also in that year, 87 percent favored tax breaks for utilities that produce more electricity from water, wind or sunlight. These majorities were maintained between 2006 and 2010 and shrank somewhat after that.”

The fact that the public is influenced by science is deeply troubling to those who dominate the economy and state policy.

One current illustration of their concern is the “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act” proposed to state legislatures by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded lobby that designs legislation to serve the needs of the corporate sector and extreme wealth.

The ALEC Act mandates “balanced teaching” of climate science in K-12 classrooms. “Balanced teaching” is a code phrase that refers to teaching climate-change denial, to “balance” mainstream climate science. It is analogous to the “balanced teaching” advocated by creationists to enable the teaching of “creation science” in public schools. Legislation based on ALEC models has already been introduced in several states.

Of course, all of this is dressed up in rhetoric about teaching critical thinking—a fine idea, no doubt, but it's easy to think up far better examples than an issue that threatens our survival and has been selected because of its importance in terms of corporate profits.

Media reports commonly present a controversy between two sides on climate change.

One side consists of the overwhelming majority of scientists, the world's major national academies of science, the professional science journals and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They agree that global warming is taking place, that there is a substantial human component, that the situation is serious and perhaps dire, and that very soon, maybe within decades, the world might reach a tipping point where the process will escalate sharply and will be irreversible, with severe social and economic effects. It is rare to find such consensus on complex scientific issues.

The other side consists of skeptics, including a few respected scientists who caution that much is unknown—which means that things might not be as bad as thought, or they might be worse.

Omitted from the contrived debate is a much larger group of skeptics: highly regarded climate scientists who see the IPCC's regular reports as much too conservative. And these scientists have repeatedly been proven correct, unfortunately.

The propaganda campaign has apparently had some effect on U.S. public opinion, which is more skeptical than the global norm. But the effect is not significant enough to satisfy the masters. That is presumably why sectors of the corporate world are launching their attack on the educational system, in an effort to counter the public's dangerous tendency to pay attention to the conclusions of scientific research.

At the Republican National Committee's Winter Meeting a few weeks ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned the leadership that “We must stop being the stupid party. We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters.”

Within the RECD system it is of extreme importance that we become the stupid nation, not misled by science and rationality, in the interests of the short-term gains of the masters of the economy and political system, and damn the consequences.

These commitments are deeply rooted in the fundamentalist market doctrines that are preached within RECD, though observed in a highly selective manner, so as to sustain a powerful state that serves wealth and power.

The official doctrines suffer from a number of familiar “market inefficiencies,” among them the failure to take into account the effects on others in market transactions. The consequences of these “externalities” can be substantial. The current financial crisis is an illustration. It is partly traceable to the major banks and investment firms' ignoring “systemic risk”—the possibility that the whole system would collapse—when they undertook risky transactions.

Environmental catastrophe is far more serious: The externality that is being ignored is the fate of the species. And there is nowhere to run, cap in hand, for a bailout.

In future, historians (if there are any) will look back on this curious spectacle taking shape in the early 21st century. For the first time in human history, humans are facing the significant prospect of severe calamity as a result of their actions—actions that are battering our prospects of decent survival.

Those historians will observe that the richest and most powerful country in history, which enjoys incomparable advantages, is leading the effort to intensify the likely disaster. Leading the effort to preserve conditions in which our immediate descendants might have a decent life are the so-called “primitive” societies: First Nations, tribal, indigenous, aboriginal.

The countries with large and influential indigenous populations are well in the lead in seeking to preserve the planet. The countries that have driven indigenous populations to extinction or extreme marginalization are racing toward destruction.

Thus Ecuador, with its large indigenous population, is seeking aid from the rich countries to allow it to keep its substantial oil reserves underground, where they should be.

Meanwhile the U.S. and Canada are seeking to burn fossil fuels, including the extremely dangerous Canadian tar sands, and to do so as quickly and fully as possible, while they hail the wonders of a century of (largely meaningless) energy independence without a side glance at what the world might look like after this extravagant commitment to self-destruction.

This observation generalizes: Throughout the world, indigenous societies are struggling to protect what they sometimes call “the rights of nature,” while the civilized and sophisticated scoff at this silliness.

This is all exactly the opposite of what rationality would predict—unless it is the skewed form of reason that passes through the filter of RECD.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor & Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the author of dozens of books on U.S. foreign policy.

Title: Re: Can civilization survive chomsky?
Post by: pine on March 28, 2013, 02:35 pm

"Pine on Chomsky"

By Pine (Order of the Platypus, AAM alumni)

Mr. Chomsky, what you've just said ... is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
Title: Re: Can civilization survive capitalism?
Post by: AUS-SmartDrugs on March 28, 2013, 02:58 pm
Who is Billy Madison!
Title: Re: Can civilization survive capitalism?
Post by: Yoda on March 28, 2013, 03:59 pm
Or more aptly titled: 

"Chomsky on thoughtcrime offenders: Yer dumber than everyone... Obey the Ministry of Truth (IPCC)!"

Title: Re: Can civilization survive capitalism?
Post by: EarlyCuylerTOR on March 28, 2013, 11:55 pm

"Pine on Chomsky"

By Pine (Order of the Platypus, AAM alumni)

Mr. Chomsky, what you've just said ... is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Well that's cute and all, but I don't see a single point you made that refuted anything the man said.  Feel free to actually discuss it if you'd like.
Title: Re: Can civilization survive capitalism?
Post by: pine on March 29, 2013, 05:27 am
Hello ECT.

While normally I rise above ad homs, I'm willing to make an exception for Noam Chomsky. His contributions. I find they don't. His followers seem to act like he's a supergenius and go into 'startled deer in the headlights' mode when anybody looks askance at his arguments. He's practically the secular equivalent of the Pope.

For general purpose entertainment, here is a critique, in part of his essay abut also generally because I've read far too much Chomsky.


Chomsky starts out with a quick jab normally delivered to Socialists in the present day. In Russia during Soviet times there was an expression called "Actually Existing Socialism". This was not originally a right wing retort as it has become known to be, but from proponents of state Communism within Russia. Their point was that Socialists outside of Soviet Russia were not 'real' Socialists, that they were content to lie back and critique Russia's 'growing pains'. In short, they were implying that Russians were being subbed for getting their hands dirty making Communism a practical, pragmatic reality while Socialists outside Russia were primarily concerned with building utopian visions without a respect for the hard work and grief that accompanies genuine change. tldr; "You guys should STFU and get stuck in."

Chomsky is saying that what people are calling capitalism, and what capitalism actually is, are quite different to each other. Chomsky would call the American economic model 'State Capitalism', or Fascism (in the strict sense of the meaning, not as a slur).

Now, pine has absolutely no problem with Chomsky critiquing the American economic model. Since Chomsky and I are both Libertarians, we actually have a lot in common in this area. An example of this is that it is true that the American economic model is some considerable distance from a Free Market, as is the European economic block. For example corn subsidies, tariffs, duties are fundamentally incompatible with a free market, yet the EU (> 50% of the entire EU budget is spent on this) and America persist in practices that make prices for food very much higher than they should be in order to assure 'price stability', which in Pine's view is actually a transparent cover for economic protectionism, and also it is of the worse kind since for developing countries esp. the African continent, agronomy is their main export market since most of those countries are entirely populated by farmers, or it would be if it actually existed. So a small number of rich farmers in Europe and America profit at a colossal expense for literally millions of farmers who could have money in their pockets for the first time instead of subsistence agriculture. It is quite hard to build an industrial base from an agricultural one when the majority of participants are living hand to mouth. Not only is it immoral, but it contravenes both the ideals of capitalism and equality, there's an irony.

The trouble is that Chomsky ALSO defines capitalism as whatever he wants it to be, whenever it suits his argument. He is inconsistent. It is no wonder he recognizes the contradictions of people calling one thing capitalism when it's quite another, because he actually does it himself ALL the time. I'm not just talking about this essay, but generally.

In the world of Chomsky, he will simultaneously claim that that state intervention is 'capitalist' (capitalist imperialists) and that the state and capitalism are diametrically opposed. Which is it? For the record the Oxford dictionary has this to say:

Definition of capitalism:

    an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.

Chomsky uses some other dictionary in his head. When referring to environmental subjects he talks of 'market inefficiencies' and 'market externalities' as being Evil Capitalism™. When referring to subjects in the political sphere he talks of 'capitalist imperialists' or 'state capitalism' as being Evil Capitalism™. Suddenly you're lawyering up with semantic arguments whereby the State and Markets blur into each other even though they are opposites, discrete concepts. Just because things have relationships it suddenly doesn't follow that those things are actually the same thing.

Libertarian capitalists are against dead set against the State, especially foreign interventionism. He rails against them on environmental grounds. Nationalists such as the neo-conservatives are heavily in favor of both state intervention and free markets (here we have a guns and butter problem due to their attempt to have their cake and eat it). He rails against those because he finds it morally objectionable. Fine. The problem is that he calls both of these Capitalism.

This is analogous to a Libertarian Socialist agreeing with the Soviet variety of Communism . It is a contradiction. Centralized state planning is not Libertarian, end of. It doesn't matter whether it's Capitalism or Socialism we're talking about. Chomsky is simplifying something that really is a Cartesian (x,y) product into a point (x) along a 2 dimensional axis.

Chomsky already knows this, because he claims Communism is actually "State Capitalism". This is like the pointless debate between the differences between Fascism and Communism. There is no real difference between the two, their methods of coercion are identical, only the rhetoric is different. Fascism and Communism are equally abhorrent to Pine, there is no meaningful difference betwixt the two.

However I do not intentionally conflate Libertarian ideals with Authoritarian ideals, they are quite different. Look at what Chomsky actually does and you'll see he is big pals with Authoritarian leaders, having visited dozens of them, he is not truly invested in Libertarianism. For him Libertarianism is an ideal he talks about a lot, but in practice he is an advocate of coercion. Read about his apologist views on Cambodia, check the fine print and you'll see that right away. His is a left wing form of Holocaust denial, he blames the Khmer Rouge did on America. I'm extremely far away from being a big fan of America's concept of foreign policy, but these are just incredible exaggerations. Chomsky sounds confident on paper when you read his books, but when you fact check, you run into some extremely disturbing qualities.

I cannot accept this as honorable debate in the same way a civilized person cannot accept that the Nazis were "misunderstood", the commissioning of the gas chambers somehow humanitarian. Chomsky is beyond the pale. Pine accepts it is possible for a capitalist, even if they are a libertarian to do great evils. For example killing people by flinging them out of airplanes is evil even if it aided market forces in Chile. It is possible to agree with the end without agreeing with the means and having a compulsion to become an apologist for it. You could construct arguments that GDP would rise if we murdered the bottom 10% of the people in IQ tables, or all the physically disable people. It might be even true, but it is still morally wrong. My personal GDP increases when I rob you, but just because it works doesn't imply it's right. Just because humans have been killing each other for thousands of years doesn't suddenly make the prohibitions against murder invalid. Chomsky is not "sophisticated" or a "rebel" just because he hates American foreign policy. It seems perfectly rational to conclude that more than one evil can exist in the world. To focus exhaustively on the impact of American aerial bombing when the Cambodian people are *literally eating each other* in the plains below seems like the height of hypocrisy to me.

Chomsky's talent seems to be to say something which is lucid (e.g. democratic ideals are incompatible with market ideals), and then immediately follow up with something which either a contradiction or completely disconnected to the previous statement, but this is difficult to see because he is an exceptional wordsmith.

I concur with Bruce Sharp, and recommend you read his article on Chomsky. He explains what I'm saying better than I can.

If he made a mistake, or even a series of mistakes, and then apologized for them in hindsight, I would not have a problem with Chomsky. Many intellectuals make mistakes, left and right, it's impossible to find one that has not. The real problem is that he persistently misrepresents his previous arguments, other people's arguments in the most unsettling patterns of doublethink I've ever had to unravel. At the heart of his intellectualisms is a troubling insecurity, he is like a child with the inability to be wrong, he is never wrong, only "misunderstood".

Chomsky's great talent is to convince his reader that he (thinks he) knows something others are too dim witted to realize. He is a brilliant propagandist, and I pay him the same heed I do Goebbels. It is all sound and fury and in the end you find yourself claiming the Khmer Rouge were only murdering their own people because Americans were murdering them.

What. The. Fuck. is the correct intellectual answer to this.
Title: Re: Can civilization survive capitalism?
Post by: EarlyCuylerTOR on March 29, 2013, 09:06 pm
Thanks for that response.  There's a lot of stuff in there.  I've had questions about some of his stuff, but I feel like I've come to understand American policy a lot better from his work.  Now, there may be glaring inconsistencies in his thoughts.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't suffer from the same thing.  We all have contradictions and are working through them the best we can.  That aside, I'm not so interested in his definitions of things (as I do what you described as well), I'm just interested in why the government does what it does.  There I think is his strong suit.  I thought I was libertarian, but now I feel I'm more along the anarchist path.  I voted Libertarian but what I've come to realize is that if the party ever becomes a threat in the slightest it will either be destroyed or corrupted.  So to me the only answer is the "no state" answer. 

I also think he is right in that capitalism and being a caring human being are incompatible.  However you want to define it, it doesn't work.  No more than fascism/communism worked.  It's exploiting one group against another and the only way to get power is to serve under someone else and do whatever they command.  In my opinion, FUCK THAT.  That's all the details I need to know.  The rest to me isn't important. 

I'll have to think more about his validity or not, but he's at least a new voice to me.  Stefan Molyneux (no idea if that's right but you'll know who he is) is another one who seems interesting.