Thursday, October 17, 2013

Polanyi for today

The spread of a commercial i.e. market economy led to environmental degradation and increasing poverty for much of the worlds’ population. But, the later stages of this movement capitalism became fully developed. As capitalism was actively developed through government intervention, the market economy went beyond mercantilism to aggressively undermine the cultural roots of mutual aid and social responsibility that was a part of every economy until the capitalist transformation of society. Capitalism by destroying traditional cultural traditions that stood in the way of profits for the sake of accumulated wealth with no other concern than amassing riches and personal economic advantage became a worldwide observable fact.  The pervasiveness of an all-inclusive and unregulated market cut away the cultural meaning of life from large populations leading to anomie.

Traditional economic behavior was embedded in social relations extending to the community as a whole, however defined. The motivation for work was social responsibility. Capitalism separates the individual from her cultural community to be reborn as a wageworker and a consumer.

Labor is the energy of a living human being. Land is nature in its’ pure form. Both predate capitalism and are necessary for life. Either separated from their natural setting and sold as a commodity or merchandise, is to treat life as an inanimate object or lifeless inert article of trade or freight and sold for money without concern for it’s living history.

A self-regulating market is a modern fiction. An economy unconstrained by social regulations operating only by the laws of supply and demand never really existed for any length of time. Nearly all factions of society, moved to have their interests protected.

A self-regulating market is a historical anomaly. It happened only once and spread from Britain and Northwest Europe to the rest of the world. Without the force of direct government intervention it would have never happened. It spread outside of its birthplace only by force of arms. As this cancer spread it recreated a new world in its own image. Everything can be bought and sold on the open market. This would become so hazardous and disorderly, that a counter movement formed all most at once. As the movement for a self-regulating market spread, so did a counter movement of intervention and regulation. This self-regulating market was and is an idea so unfamiliar to what is to be human. Capitalism in its pure form is utterly injurious and damaging of both culture and society a counter movement became necessary.

Capitalism is a history of two movements coexisting, codependent and opposing each other at every turn. The first is a self-regulating market governed by the laws of supply and demand, keeping government regulations out of the market processes. The other is direct government intervention and regulations to protect people, land, culture and society from the cruel ravenous ravages of a self-regulating market. Pre-capitalist society economic behavior has always been embedded in social relations and deeply rooted in social responsibilities.  To even attempt a self-regulating market, flies in the face of all known human history until now. This effort is both the only one of its kind and unequaled in history. Separating economic decisions from community concerns, hoping a self-regulating market by invisible forces will take care of everyone. Markets have very ancient roots. But, everywhere markets were carefully and jealously regulated. Markets worked best when they were peripheral to the rest of the economy. Only through violent revolution and imperial conquests did the self-regulating market spread. To end direct government intervention, direct government intervention became necessary in the form of liberal revolutions. To end cultural and social constraints on the market a new culture and society was formed. The result was so catastrophic and disruptive that a counter movement grew up at the same time.

Traditional societies all held that members had a right to live, and society as a whole had the responsibility to keep the members alive. In return members had the shared obligation to jointly labor for the good of the larger community. The main economic incentive to work was this social responsibility. But, 19th century British and European classical economists came up with the theory only by the joint motivations of greed and hunger motivated people to work. Wages like any other commodity must remain determined by supply and demand. Any attempt to raise wages or give assistance to the poor would only breed laziness.  Thus, even worse than the grinding poverty created by the spread of a market that leads to periodic over production and economic collapse, is the social and cultural disruption, by replacing social ties founded on mutual aid as defined by the culture of the people, with profits for the sake of profits. Cultural bonds were ripped asunder. Devastating anomie leading to self-destruction and death of entire communities. Those that survived were transformed to meet the needs of business owners and investors. To fight back workers formed unions, farmers joined with other farmers to form cooperatives and radical political parties, socialist organizations of all kinds were also created. Even the defenders of the self-regulating market periodically needed and expected government bailouts.  Labor legislation and union busting are fought out within the government. The anti-capitalist movement often sees government as an enemy protecting the capitalist. So, it is not so easy as the left wants big government and the right wants a smaller government. In fact both only likes government if it is on their side on a particular issue, or they both want less government. The difference is social responsibility or self-regulating market, motivated by either ethical concerns for the community as a whole or greed and hunger.
Lassie-faire or the self-regulating market cannot coexist with democracy. Political democracy is meaningless without economic democracy. Democracy allows for the greatest say of everyone in those decisions affecting their lives. Only some sort of collectivist, cooperative economy or socialism is compatible with democracy. Capitalism leads to political autocracy and economic concentration and centralization.   

Cross-culturally and historically the study of economic systems show not only markets being peripheral to providing for community needs, but economic activity is always embedded ethics governing social relations. Poverty was temporary as the poor had a claim on needed resources as members of the community.

Redistribution of needed supplies and assets from the larger social unit to individuals and families in need was common throughout history and across cultures. Comprehensive reciprocity, reciprocated bargains, mutual aid, shared giving and receiving, balanced gift giving, unbiased sharing, concern for public wellbeing and redistribution was common everywhere.

Kinship extended outward from the nuclear family to larger extended families. Then it extends to lineage, clan, tribe and ethnic identity. The household, neighborhood, village, city, locality, region and nation are also a way of looking at it. At each level there was certain expectations concerning both rights and benefits on one side and responsibilities on the other.

Long distance trade differed from one historical period and people involved to another. But, a competitive market did not govern it. Often it was a matter of ceremonial gift giving of gifts of equivalent value, other times formal donations of assistance with expectations of approaching support, negotiated prices, synchronized and contracted worth of items in the exchange. Even under mercantilism an openly competitive market was lacking. External trade was located only in ports and major towns exchanges rates were set through political agreements and not simply supply and demand.

Local markets were always peripheral. As tangential markets, they were exclusively located in the market place. Because they were solely to be found in the market place most often they were limited to a single market day each week. These market places were the home of a highly competitive market with haggling, bargaining, quibbling, bartering and other behaviors best kept away from the rest of the community where people could let lose without endangering the remainder of the neighborhood. Both types of markets were important, but the quest for profit need be carefully controlled. This worry was a near cross-cultural concern throughout history.  Markets remained peripheral throughout history so as not threaten the rest of the economic activities that were arranged so as to assure basic needs and requests were met. Production for use was the main part of the economy. Production for profit always remained supplementary.

With the rise of the state in Britain and Western Europe local trade was amalgamated into national trade. With universal units of measure, all-purpose money in national currency, and protection of movable property on national highways was necessary. The national merchants and investment bankers of mercantilists created the preconditions for capitalism. Later through the liberal revolutions the industrialists and financiers would shatter the tight controls over the economy of the monarch, royal bureaucrats, national merchants and investment bankers of mercantilism. Laissez of the faire self-regulating market was born. This new economic system required restructuring not only of earlier types of markets, but the economy as a whole. This was a totally artificial creation, brought about by the political power of a small group of the politically influential leading a broader democratic revolution. This revolutionary vanguard would later abandon democracy for private property, wealth and capitalism.

Land everywhere is central to every economic system. This is nature in its simplest form. Land is necessary to human life. Everywhere access to the resources of the land was central to every community and its entire people. By making land as something that can be owned exclusively by a single individual and be sold by that individual for money to another separating all other claimants from that particular piece of land. With private property all hopes of democracy is destroyed.

Land is basic to human survival and the long-term life of the community. People are a people because of their roots deep in land. This is true for nomads and farmers. Community stability has a pedigree full of meaning in the soil. Also each member had a role to play and therefore was protected. These deep and profound cultural roots had to be shattered to turn people into wageworkers forced to sell their labor power in order just to subsist. If land is an article of trade than so are the people who lived off the land and are now alienated from that land. The people must be reduced to poverty, hunger and indigence by losing any claim to resources needed to live. Free labor was born. The only social obligation on the part of the worker is not to die of hunger. The only public duty on the part of the capitalist is to gain as much profits as possible. Death was everywhere. Rebellion, crime, and desperate populations were the norm. The Capitalist driven by greed over produced glutting the markets and created one economic collapse after another. Self-regulating markets gave birth a movement to regulate and control those markets.

The study of economics should be grounded in historical sociology, cultural anthropology and most of all social ethics. Value Free is impossible, cowardly and immoral we are all products of our social environment and thus in part responsible. As Frederick Engels has taught us Scientific Socialism uses rigorous Historical Sociology to guide Social Activism. Economic theories that are both ahistorical and value free also distorts more than it reveals. Ethics are as much a part of human evolution as bipedal locomotion or opposable thumbs. We learn as we grow from helpless infants to responsible adults is that the day to day economic activity is not only required for continued existence on this planet, but it is grounded in an ethical core, even the amoral or immoral is an ethical core though a destructive one. How we relate to those we love, like or know says a lot. How we respond to the culture we are a part of also says a lot. To understand this we need to presuppose a capability of criticizing oneself objectively approach to oneself and our life.
The day-to-day tasks of staying alive and supporting our selves is established through economic behavior guided by a set of ethics good or bad. The routine everyday jobs must be organized in such a way as people in order to live, and to establish the social units and cultures necessary for that life can utilize the resources that exist in nature. Life itself requires someone be responsible for maintaining life. If I am not free to take that responsibility on myself then someone must take on that responsibility for me. The choices needed to carryout those decisions involved in that responsibility should be taken on by me. If not then suppose impudence however restrained. The ethics of responsibility is learned only through actually participating in the decisions of the commonplace efforts and the everyday jobs of safeguarding the living and sustaining ourselves. Consideration, thoughtfulness and concerned insight along with historical facts are the building blocks of sympathetic understanding. Mutual aid and cooperation at some point are necessary for the survival of society if not the human species.  Shared assistance and collaboration are not eliminated through the philosophy of rugged individualism of capitalism, but is caged up and used by the capitalist to avoid his social obligations, or by the worker in collaboration with other workers as an underground movement for her survival and the survival of the community.

The call of conscience requires a transparent society.  The necessities of a sense of right and wrong need a visible culture of concern.  Most of our economic behavior is such a small part of an ever-larger picture that few are aware of the consequences of our collective economic activities. Capitalism is dominated by a logic that is beyond any input by the individuals involved, including the capitalists. Therefore there is a need for constant damage control. All actions have public costs to the community, as well as possible benefits. All behavior has social consequences. Social organization, relations of power and the economy clearly rest on the behavior of individuals. The participation by individuals if it is to be free must also be ethical. Most people want the best for themselves and their families. A more humane economic system is a prerequisite for freedom. A complementary caring economy with a method for mutual aid is a must for liberty, which is essential for democracy. Joint accountability is the first step toward democracy. Personal freedom, even in a free society, can happen only if a person chooses to accept that freedom.

America must join the community of nations, not the first among equals, but an equal among equals. Humility, reserve, modesty, gentleness and understanding of self-imposed limitations allow other people to share in gaining their freedom. Conservation of resources is a gift to our children. The approachable and complimentary carrying out of cooperative dependability makes each accountable for everybody. This is why historical sociology objectively deals with facts but is always subjectively and ethically bound. Even topics studied and methods used have an ethical and subjective quality to it.

In the colonies, former colonies and marginal countries with a serious reduction of resources needed to develop, are the nations that global capitalism instead of improving the standard of living of the majority, only increased material poverty of the greater part of the population. Pre-capitalist poverty only led to increased solidarity and mutual aid within the community. Except during severe famines caused by droughts, floods and other climatic disasters people helped each other survive. With capitalism famines became away of life. Permanent starvation is the result of not enough money to buy food. Kinship and village life was weakened and ties of shared objectives and assistance was also weakened. Culturally organized relations of joint support are now easily overwhelmed and hunger is now expected. As undernourishment becomes the new normal an even worse malady is born. Loss of self-respect, rapid decline in communal meaning, anomie and a collapse of social norms and absence of cultural values, and being forced into work for wages. The result was and is Global capitalism creates forced economic activity that is disconnected from those same social relations that allowed people to survive poverty with dignity in tact. This obliteration of the cultural patterns that defined a personal identity was traumatized. This then is the offspring of a self-regulating market. Production for use always provided the peoples needs and profits were always secondary if considered at all. Thus, capitalism fails dramatically even in the short run. Because life is so complex that nearly everyday brings with it unforeseen outcomes, economies required a concern for the greater good to be built into decisions made even by individuals. As new needs arose, cultures evolved to meet those changing needs. Economic systems continued to change along side of the rest of society. But, what remained the same was production for use at the local level. Markets that did exist where always kept on the margins of day-to-day life of the over all population. Most economic activities were filled with cultural meanings and embedded in social relations. Individual accumulation of wealth for wealth sake, while existing only affected a minority of the population and was never allowed too threaten the larger economy. It was assumed markets worked best when they were peripheral and tightly controlled by outside forces. Markets that were secondary and closely monitored by religion, government, kinship considerations or other external influences were welcome under limited circumstances. Only under capitalism was individual advantage, accumulation of wealth and needs of the self became and end in itself that did not need to be justified. Narcissism and sociopathic behavior became ethically acceptable. An individual’s importance was defined by income. Vanity, antisocial, and arrogance became the preferred a life style resulting in self-centeredness and a feeling of emptiness. But, resistence to capitalism is everywhere. Everywhere mutual aid takes on new meaning. Labor unions, cooperatives, national rights struggles, and human rights groups are just some examples.
The establishment of the so-called welfare state is another example of the resistence against capitalism. Often seen as to be better than insurrection even by some capitalists. But, the redistribution is highly bureaucratic and thus without the close social relations found in traditional societies. True democracy would have a solid economic foundation in which workers would have a direct say in what is produced, how it is created, how it is exchanged for other goods and services and how the wealth produced is distributed. In the meantime the increasing role of government in the management of the welfare state was a defensive reaction to the rising labor movement and the increasing popularity of socialism among part of the population. But, those who run the government are dependent on the support of the capitalist in general and will step back from concern for the welfare of the majority first chance they get. The rise of socialism is a direct response to capitalism. Unfortunately so are the popularity of unhealthy nationalism, romantic conservatism, fascism and religious fundamentalism, which only leads to further alienation and destruction. We must choose inclusion over exclusion, love over hate and democracy over hierocracy.

Comfort, contentment and happiness are good and possibly the foundation of the truly ethical. Substantive codes of ethics should if possible be a shared concern for others, for in others we find ourselves. Ethics are an affirmation that our happiness is born in the love we share with others. Economics if it is to be successful must reflect this. Anything that stands in the way of this collective morality demands our collective moral outrage and a commitment to try at least to increase the collective happiness of all life on this planet for now and in the future. Human suffering is the definition of injustice.

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