Capitalism: A Debate (Jacobin vs Reason)



hi thank you all so much for coming out on a Friday night we are here to debate the proposition capitalism is the best way to improve standards of living ensure political and economic freedom and provide opportunity and the reason that I was intrigued when bhaskar asked me if I wanted to do this is because I'm sort of persuadable on this issue I grew up came of age at a time when it seemed as if alternatives to capitalism had been completely discredited and I think it's hard to remember they're hard to understand if you weren't around then how much it seemed as if there was really no alternative it kind of didn't matter what you thought of capitalism just like it doesn't really matter what you think of human mortality it was an inevitable fact of life after the fall of communism and I would imagine that if you are coming of age now it seems that just as communism had failed capitalism has now failed you know we're governed by this cabal of comic-book villain oligarchs while while people are forced to wear diapers at their factories because they aren't given bathroom breaks and even the one thing that used to be able to say for capitalism which was that it was supposed to be efficient at allocating capital is clearly not true at a time when you know wages are stagnant while you know tens of millions or hundreds of millions are invested in kind of fantastical Silicon Valley startups and so I'm interested in this debate you know I'm interested in if to see if either side can talk me out of my sense of despair and total futility and I'm grateful to Cooper Union for giving us this historic Great Hall to have this debate in it was originally scheduled for a different venue and sold out very quickly and I think it's you know testament to how much hunger there is for intelligent political debate that all of you are here this is a there's this is home to a tradition of political debate going back to 1860 when Abraham Lincoln made a major anti-slavery address in this very place and thank you too [Applause] thank you to Haymarket books who are operating the sales outside of the hall thank you – thank you to verso books and especially fan nuyen for providing live stream services so that this debate can reach people beyond this room and let me explain how this is going to go we're going to we have a number of kind of formal questions that everybody that we've talked about beforehand people will have three minutes on each side to address them and then two minutes for rebuttal so that I don't have to kind of like talk over people and try to bring these segments to a close their mics are gonna cut out when those when their time is is done to kind of keep it moving fairly briskly then we'll move into a more informal discussion and there are not going to be audience questions which I hope doesn't disappoint people who were very excited to here to here to here to here along autodidactic disquisitions and so let me introduce our panelists Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of reason and reason TV I'm sorry editor of reason.com and reason TV the online platforms of reason and Katherine Bank Award is editor-in-chief of Reason and a future tense fellow at new America and the vicar is a professor of sociology at New York University and a person a person with a very active fan base and the editor of catalyst a journal of theory and strategy his latest book is post-colonial theory and the specter of capital and and Baskar Sankara is the founding editor and publisher of Jacobin and the editor [Applause] and so we're gonna begin by trying to define our terms and so the first question which is gonna we're gonna start with reason is what is capitalism thank you very much Michelle and thank you very much to Jacobin for organizing this debate when they reached out to us we immediately thought this is gonna be a delightful time so I hope you enjoy yourselves as much as we do so definitional questions incredibly annoying sort of pedantic let's go ahead and get it out of the way capitalism is a system that doesn't have any answers it does not seek to impose answers to the question what should we produce how should we produce it who gets the stuff we produce now that kind of sounds like some airy-fairy garbage so I'm gonna try and get a little more nitty gritty also in my answer what that means in practice is that property is largely privately owned it means that profit provides incentive for production it means employment is at-will means the government government's role in the economy should be strictly limited and the forces of supply and demand in a free market while imperfect are the most efficient means of providing for the general well-being of humankind now I'm mostly going to obsess about that last point my colleague Nick Gillespie will be hitting on some other topics but I am just gonna keep coming back to this idea the question of whether or not capitalism in fact lets people flourish whether it provides the best life that we can possibly provide for them now a couple of points here between 1990 and 2010 we have had the most incredible revolution Michele's introduction expressed despair I rarely find myself on the side of cheery optimism but I'm gonna give it a go here and say that in those 20 years we took the number of people living in extreme poverty and cut it by 50% we did the same thing for the number of people who don't who don't have access to clean drinking water now what happened in those 20 years oh I know capitalism that's what happens capitalism came to India and China and the version of capitalism that came to India and China is wildly imperfect it doesn't look anything like the version of capitalism that I would like to see in the world but it looks enough like capitalism to have generated this huge boom in standards of living I think what Americans talk about capitalism we can be a little myopic we can think about what our capitalism looks like right now that's a different question than what capitalism the idea looks like and what capitalism looks like in the world at large note here that neither Nick nor I are fans of big business that is not what we are here to argue we're not here to argue for crony capitalism we're not here to argue for you know the fusion of big business and big government we do not like those things but we do want to talk about how things really exist in the world I am sure that the gentleman from Jacobin would like to disavow how socialism sometimes plays out in the world probably maybe all the ways that socialism plays out in the world so let's talk about the real world but let's keep in mind that we have an ideal vision of capitalism as well okay thank you [Applause] Jacobin what capitalism is is an economic system fundamentally now my colleagues said capitalism doesn't have any answers mmm that's exactly I think right it doesn't have any answers to most of the problems the world is facing today what it is is a system fundamentally organized around exchange around trade around money around commodities and in particular capitalism is organized around the purchase and sale of labour-power around the purchasing that is to say wage labor as the first system in the world where work has been fundamentally carried out by people who are working for a wage in the United States today and in the world where any part in the world that we call capitalist the fundamental the modal form of Labor is wage labor in this country right now anywhere between depending on how you measure it 65 to 70% of the population are wage laborers now on the other side of this is a group of people who owned the means of production and these we call them capitalists and this is a tiny percentage of the population now when we say own the means of production it actually means two separate things either it's direct ownership of the means of production or effective control so as CEO for example technically is a salaried employee but we're going to call them a capitalist because what they do is they make all the decisions that an owner would typically make now in between these we have a population of in the United States about 20 25 30 % of the people again depending on how you measure it who we would call middle-class this would be people who are managers people who were a white-collar high-level salaried people or owner-operators montage shops people who have their own engineering people who are graphic designers things like that the essence of capitalism everything we know about it revolves around the relationship between the first and the second group of people the wage laborers and the capitalists now we're going to ask the question is this a system that is the best possible means for improving standards of living for providing opportunities etc it's a hard question to answer because when we say best possible for socialists you're comparing it against two things you're comparing it against a system that today and I hope we will all agree on this a system that today nobody supports which is the Soviet style or Chinese style system of socialism on the Left today people don't support it on the right that's usually used as a straw man to knock down socialists when they're saying we want a different system the argument comes so so that's what you want and I just want to stipulate right now for the rest of the conversation neither I nor bhaskar would support that system now a second alternative to which we compare it is the improvements that have been made within capitalism improvements that push it in a socialistic direction but without going whole hog into public ownership of the means of production the reason most socialists embraced those sorts of systems is because they're driven by the same principles thank you you know the first thing that I want to say Michelle is I didn't realize when you were talking about working conditions that the New York Times requires its people to work at their desks and wear diapers I thought I thought that only happened to the third world well I realized many of your many of the people at the New York Times are that old but well let that pass I mean obviously if you know if if everybody in this country have the working conditions at the New York Times capitalism wouldn't be up for debate yeah well yes doubt their way I think if I want to pick up on something Vivek said where he said that capitalism is an economic system I want to stress and I end you know actually that capitalism is a subset of a larger liberal political philosophy that I suspect that the reason people in the Jacobin people and a lot of the people in this audience actually agree on which the very way that we're talking about this question does the individual yeah how does the individual fair under a particular political economic or social system capitalism is simply the application to economics of a kind of classical liberal theory that goes back at least to the 17th century and it's really all about centered around the individual and increasing and maintaining autonomy for individuals and the way that I think about capitalism or the world and the liberal philosophy from which I tend to defend capitalism is was best summed up a few years ago by a Canadian politician named Tim Moen who ran under the slogan unsuccessfully I might add after all he was in Canada but he said I want my married gay friends to be able to defend their pot plants with guns and that's in many ways is what reasons vision of capitalism is about it's about securing basic rights to live and to explore and to express yourself to participate in what John Stuart Mill an economist a political economist who's straddled on the one hand libertarian ideas as well as socialist ideas about running experiments and living so that's that's what we're defending when we talk about capitalism and you get the last word on this question I'm glad you said that Nick actually we couldn't agree more socialists and people on the left for generations have fought for those very rights and the reason we have those rights today is because of the left it's important to understand that the liberties that that libertarians embrace our liberties that were not bequeathed or bestowed upon the population by the elites who took power in the 16th 17th 18th 19th century but those elites put in place everywhere and always was oligarchies narrow a political system ruled by the rich for the rich the extension of Civil and Political liberties everywhere and always came about through fights and struggles of trade unions working people of all colors and of all genders now so that's a baseline that we can all agree on what in the rest of the debate what I'm going to be trying to establish along with my colleague over here is that the problem with capitalism is not that it's based on the principles or the philosophies that our colleagues here are talking about the problem with capitalism is that it cannot possibly deliver on them and this is what we're going to try to shy of it from now so to return to Jacobin our first question is I thought I know how you're gonna answer it is the profit motive a force for good well maybe I'll surprise you Michele no well now in a limited way look what I said earlier what capitalism is is a system that's based on market exchange that's a little bit misleading what capitalism fundamentally is is a system which structurally compels firms and owners of capital to constantly maximize profits at the center of capitalism is a blind relentless pursuit of profits it's a compulsion it is not a profit opportunity it is not an entrepreneurial spirit it is a compulsion and everybody understands this in capitalism if firms don't maximize profits they die or at least they risk death now this has a very important consequence and it goes straight to the question of freedom and autonomy which our colleagues are promoting because in capitalism for the vast majority of the population there is no choice but to offer up their labor services for a wage they have to go out and seek employment the employer who hires them is an entity for whom the only thing that matters and the only thing that can matter is not just acquiring but maximizing their profits now this results in two things first of all for the worker they have to when they take the wage bargain what comes with the wage bargain is an agreement that for the eight nine ten hours or if the nineteenth-century 12 hours or for the third world today fourteen hours for that period I surrender my autonomy to you that is part of the wage bargain IP when you tell me to I talk when you tell me to I and where you tell me to stand furthermore you get to set the wage level it's not just that inside the workplace the boss gets to tell me what to do is that because he has the power to set the terms of the wage bargain the boss also gets to decide what the level of the wage is he also he gets to decide what time I come in what time I leave I understand this for two it has two very important consequences it means that first of all income distribution in capitalism is set by people who run the firm's by the CEOs by the managers that means that they're powered their bargaining power sets what they're going to get out of it and that's why in the last 45 years what we've seen in the United States is that while productivity in manufacturing and the economy has gone up by about 78 percent real wages for production line workers for ordinary workers have actually stagnated they've gone up about maybe six percent for the bottom 50% of the population all of which is working-class there has not been a rise in their wages in 40 years okay that's a consequence of their lack of freedom secondly it means that for the ten hours they're at work they are unfree and for the time that they leave work now they're spent the rest of that time getting ready to come back to work again yes that they have a choice who to work for but the whole point is whoever they work for that's the bargain that they get [Applause] did you hear that little bit right at the end yes they have a choice who they work for but that's my whole point here that's what I'm gonna do well on people have choices people have choices when they take a job they have choices when they buy an object do they have choices when they engage in any kind of commercial transaction where people don't have choices is when they deal with government and to my mind one of the strongest gates for capitalism is when they we carve out space that is voluntary transactions I absolutely agree self-expression individual autonomy these are the goods that we're seeking but I think it's quite clear that in the case of the modern American market economy where people are living free lives is not it is not only outside of their work lives we've heard a lot about the working class we've heard a lot about the capitalists I hope we get to hear about the bourgeoisie later and and what I want to emphasize here is that as the kids these days say everybody in this room is pretty bougie we are all benefiting from the seeming excesses of the modern capitalist system which is indeed driven by profit profits our information just like prices our information and what profits and prices tell us is when we are making the right amount of stuff for the people who want it the people who are going to voluntarily buy it it tells us when people are in jobs that they are willing to do for the wages that they are offered and this is I think something that is constantly lost in this debate the idea that people are somehow coerced in their working environments simply isn't the lived experience of workers in America at any level this is not to say that people love their jobs and just bounce in there every day full of unicorns and rainbows that's how I feel about my job that is not how most people feel about their jobs maybe but this is still ultimately every morning you wake up and you have the decision about whether or not you're going to go to work you can choose not to go and the day that you choose not to go is you know what happens to you at that point nobody comes to take you away nobody comes to arrest you under socialist systems historically that is in fact what happens and I think that this is something that our friends on Team Jacobin would like to erased and I pretend doesn't exist and I absolutely will grant them that that is not the ideal form of their system it is however the lived form of their system under capitalism we have a constant ongoing push for profits which leads to all the riches that you currently enjoy this it leads to the fact that you could pay your five or ten bucks for the ticket for this event it leads to the uber that you took here at Leeds – the phone that you're texting on right now and probably tweeting about how I'm an evil capitalist thank you [Applause] all right so let's start with the question of choice is it the case you wake up every morning you wonder whether you're gonna go to work or not well for me it is the screw the rest of you and that's capitalism it's a great system if you're on top there's never been a better system if you're on top but the fact of the matter is for the people who actually are people who work for a living here's the expression they use I have to work for a living there is no choice in capitalism about whether or not you're going to go to work this is no small thing it is because there is no choice about whether you're not or not you're going to go to work that you submit to the power the authority and quite often the depredations of your employer I think it's just somewhat disingenuous to suggest that when people go to work they face a open playing field for themselves what they face is an employer whose sole prerogative whose sole goal is to do two things pay out as little as they can and to get as much work out of the workers as possible now is this a bastion of freedom and is it a bastion of opportunity not really yeah it's true that it's better than being a slave it's true that it's better than being a serf it's true that it's better than being in a state socialist society what are those the choices we want to put before our kids are those two choices on which we want to hang our philosophy of life and the way we organize our societies it is absolutely true that the state socialist systems were abominations but we have done much better even within capitalism and every time we've done better it's been by reining in the power of employers by increasing the power of workers and by giving people access to the basic necessities of life without the market so the next question goes to reason can freedom exist without private property let me get to that in a second one one thing guys you have a sequel here Vivek is talking as if negotiation and trade and change and improvement in circumstances is somehow antithetical to capitalism or liberal philosophy of which capitalism is an economic application he's totally wrong as Joseph Schumpeter wrote in 1942 the capitalist achievement does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for Queens but in bringing them in within reach of factory girls we live in a world that is overflowing with crap with things to buy opportunities to have and freedoms to indulge it it may be among the you know working class in fetishizing Brooklyn youth that that's not a problem but that's that's what is happening we have more things and more opportunities than we ever have in the United States the cost of virtually everything that you want to buy that is not completely regulated or priced by the government such as health care and education it has been getting cheaper in terms of the amount of work that needs to be produced in order to purchase it a car of a refrigerator a television set a cable package an internet connection it goes on and on in the developing world there is not a place in the developing world where things are not getting better when trade and commerce or capitalism increases three out of four adults in America are better off than their parents were at age 40 even though we have had a shitty economy for all of the 21st century we're still doing better throughout the world as Kathryn was talking about extreme poverty has been more than halved in the past 25 years because of trade not because of Aid and not because of giveaways by States to corrupt dictators around the globe now the question is can you you know is is property absolutely essential or can freedom exist without private-property I would say no because the starting point of this system and I don't think this is a question for socialism either it begins with the individual and it begins with a concept of self ownership and it begins very clearly and very profoundly with the right to say no that you are not going to do something and it's it's a cheap applause line to be honest to say you know working for a living well it's better than slavery it is quantitatively better than slavery it is qualitatively distinct from slavery as well and it is wrong particularly in an advanced economy or any in the US and Canada and Mexico in any of the OECD countries to try and blur those lines because we do have options and we own ourselves not completely not fully but we own ourselves and in that is the beginning of liberal philosophy and capitalism as it plays out in the world which makes us richer and better off I was hoping I wouldn't have to speak tonight I would just be like hanging in the back of the music video or whatever and most of my self conception I'm something like a sugared night like figure so don't don't burst my bubble so you know I think self ownership is great way to put it and in that respect do we have freedom today yes we have some freedom but it's a necessarily limited freedom it's a freedom mostly enjoyed by the small group of people who own private property the rest of us are at these peoples mercy and I'm not talking about obviously personal property I'm not talking about your ownership of a toothbrush I'm not talking about Nick's leather jacket he got it at a Dead Kennedys concert in 1982 and I would die for his right to keep it but private property is different those are the things that give the people who own them power over those who don't take a privately owned workplace business owners get to impose working conditions that have given a good alternative most people would reject and while workers do most of the work at a job owners have unilateral say over what happens to the profits afterwards this is something we were driving home and I think is a simple point I think it's a point that even libertarians shouldn't reject if they're thinking their conception of self ownership seriously and that's at work or starve is not a fair bargain economic relations aren't free and private if their contracts made under duress their contracts that we have today our contracts that undemocratically give some people tremendous power over others now if you want to talk about concrete historical examples let's do that let's look at even existing societies like Europe's welfare states places where private property has been undermined through the regulation of capital those societies to some degree limit freedom for the people who own private property but for the majority who don't these people enjoy a greater range of choice and the chance a greater chance to achieve their potentials they have this freedom not because private property is upheld but because the freedom for the minority who own private property is limited fundamentally socialists believe in the rights of people to the fruits of their own labor of course we believe in individual rights and individual freedoms but our individual individuality can only be achieved in a society truly embodying the virtues of Liberty and a solidarity and of course you know we believe in a system of law we just believe in different law ending private property isn't just about government taking things we don't want it all powerful government bureaucracy but we also don't want big corporate bureaucracies to control our society either social and economic decisions must be by the people whom they most affect libertarians can't go far enough to embrace a more expansive vision of freedom they can't go far enough to truly embrace the self ownership the Nick was talking about thank you a reason you get the last word the idea that we get to define private property as the property that seems kind of yucky and we don't like and we have to put all the cool stuff that we really do like in a different basket of personal property I think is a fundamental misunderstanding of how those two things are very very tightly interrelated if you like your stuff if you like to be able to do what you want to do in your home in your car on your computer this is this is all enabled by private property if we're talking about civil liberties they exist because we have spaces carved out where people not only own their own bodies but also own the physical space around them they own the media in which they communicate this is more true than ever it turns out that capitalism as it exists in the world does not result in a narrowing of the channels for communication say let's talk about free speech as an example it turns out that greedy corporations actually have made it incredibly easy have proliferated the ways for people to get together shout each other express their opinions do what they want to do that is predicated on our understanding of where the lines of free speech start and stop they are different in public spaces and private spaces and speech is freer in private spaces this is something that you know you can tell by the fact that when you look on a corporate owned platform of any kind you will see people shouting full-time about how awful corporations are that strikes me as evidence that corporations are not in fact constantly suppressing expression or personal liberty furthermore I just want to say that private property as a precondition for political Liberty does not again mean businesses get to be in charge of the government that is the opposite of the thing that we are talking about here the moment when big business and big government get together the Socialists lose the libertarians lose everyone loses that is not where you're advocating for but it is in fact the inevitable endgame of socialism as it is proposed by the Jacobin gang thank you okay so the next question what is the relationship between freedom and democracy capitalism between capitalism and democracy so this is a historical question and I think we should be very clear about the answer to this question capitalism has everywhere and always fought against the implementation of democracy and the and the expansion of suffrage no need to clap that's a sad thing in its historical fact now and once we got democracy capitalism has worked to undermine it to make sure that the power it has or potentially could have is hemmed it is hemmed in capitalists don't want to give up power to democratic processes they don't want to deal with engaged and empowered voters while we're capitalist so worried about working in democratic societies you know it's simple they thought that if working people could express their political rights they wouldn't just stop there they would extend democracy into economic and social realms to capitalists actually underestimated how resilient their system is we do live in a democratic capitalist society a society that has been made more civilized but as we've said earlier this is because precisely because of the struggles of working-class movements and despite the resistance of capitalist the fact is we still live in a partial democracy not a complete democracy and that's just because of how much of our time we spend in our our workplaces a few CEOs make decisions that affect millions of people and this tyranny bleeds over into other spheres of life even viewers say okay the tyranny of the workplace is fine it could be justified but we're fought we want democracy elsewhere it doesn't work that way it has been consistent that the economic power of capitalist of undermine our our political democracy and whatever noble liberal dreams we share of liberty and justice has been frustrated by how well and power is distributed and because of how dumb Democratic Kappas are if we were to go forward if we were to try to achieve a deep democracy an economic democracy the kind that would allow the majority to win to win and live in freer and happier lives we would see capitalist once again as a barrier to that advance we've seen it everywhere this to me is history so the only recourse they have is to defend this history and say that the inroads against democracy were justified or go on but this this libertarian can temptation to both trumpet the economic power democracy but still playlist service to democracy I think is unsustainable you know maybe if maybe it's worth defining what we mean die by democracy democracy is majority rule how many of you are Republicans and how many of you want absolute absolute democracy now that the Republicans on the White House and both houses of Congress anybody out there I'm sorry I can't hear you because this whole idea that democracy is somehow an absolute good is and we all know that and the signal achievement of the past 500 years in Western Western political philosophy has been limiting the state to say that there are certain things that the state does not own of you or from you or because of you we all believe in fettered democracy Nancy McLain recently wrote a book called democracy and Chains about how the evil Koch brothers are going to thwart democracy I should point out that the Koch brothers are donors to reason and thank God because we believe that there are individual rights including a right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness that a majority of Donald Trump Republicans can vote to take away from the rest of us so let's get that straight democracy is not an unfettered unalloyed good in fact it's deeply problematic there is a wide range of shared activities of which a majority should you no can vote and we can decide this or that within a certain range but nobody wants unfettered democracy that's that's my bakra see and I think we're all against that the question then is what is the relationship between capitalism and democracy to the extent that there are social goods that we agree that we want to fund and if you're a liberal a libertarian in today's parlance a classical liberal in IRA's past that might be something like public education I won't speak for Kathryn because as libertarians we are not allowed to speak for each other I'm not even allowed to always speak for myself because I usually am not quite sure what I think about something but say take public education that's something where we might tax people we're not going to take all their income but we tax people and then give it to people who will benefit from an education so they can participate more fully in society develop themselves have more autonomy etc okay let's do that it doesn't need to be absolute we need tax money you get tax money from markets and commercial transactions of things that people actually want as Kathryn was talking about so capitalism or the economic application of liberal political philosophy gives you the money that you can then use in taxes to help people participate more fully in society that's not such a bad thing and then we might argue in terms of and I know that one thing that's good about Jacobin is that their market socialist so they might say public education would be better if it was based on charter schools or schools of choice within a system rather than mandatory schools that are a lot like prisons okay for the record this was otherwise a friendly conversation for that that last part was just libelous so it is what it is funny that the Nick mentioned the Koch brothers and I appreciate the disclaimer but does anyone know where the cook family got rich especially because Kathryn has brought up the specter of Stalinism and socialism practice a little bit the Koch brothers got rich making deals in stalin's uses are that was part of it no not the Koch brothers himself or the part of the family wealth that was derived from their so the time when the anti-stalinist left was denouncing in the late 20s and and and 30s Stalinism we shouldn't forget how forward and a lot of big us capitalist interests we're very happy to drop their ideology and and and do business were they where they could now let's take the example of public education there now if they're conceding that they're conceding and I actually do you agree most conservatives in this country most libertarians in this country would concede that a child has the right to be literate learn basic mathematics and you know it's really unequal but we do have public education in this country it's D commodified it's taken out of the market in this this country now if they have this right as a social right then what's more fundamental than housing or better than them having three meals a day isn't that even more fundamental than than education so so that's why don't we enjoy all those things as social social rights as far as democracy is once it once again stress it of course we believe in bedrock social and civil rights of course we believe in the rights of minorities the question for us is just how to take those paper rights and turn them into a reality that's why socialists and the historical record is very important for American socialists we fought for the eight hour work week for struggles for women's suffrage civil liberties for African Americans reproductive rights the fight for gay marriage and on and on and again this is this is our this is our history this is our legacy and this is what our actual relationship democracy and practice okay now this is the last question for the formal part of the debate does capitalism allow people to reach their full potential so for me this one seems easy it's having access to resources that allows people to reach their full potential and as you've just heard the Jacobin folks would say well the way that we get people access to basic stuff they need is socialism we fight against the capitalist system to shuffle all the stuff around until people have the minimum they need in fact though I will come back to the same old song I've been singing all along which is that in the last 25 years there has been a spectacular unprecedented mind-blowing ly large growth in the number of people who have access to the basic stuff they need to self-actualize and I don't think anybody in this room would disagree that if there is any economic system that has been dominant during that period it's capitalism this is like just a very very fundamental fact which plays to our point of agreement people need stuff to do what they want to do and capitalism generates stuff it generates more stuff for the richest people the people who control capital no doubt but it also generates an incredible amount of stuff for the poorest people and I think that what you will always hear in these debates is the inequality point not irrelevant totally important absolutely important particularly from the political perspective because people respond to what feels fair at the same time the poorest people while they while the gap between them and the richest people is growing the poorest people are getting rich or at a spectacular rate so if your premise is simply that to self-actualize to flourish people need to have some basics and then they can go out and do their thing capitalism is the best way to provide those basics and I think that everything else is essentially clouding the issue if we have private property people have their own space and their self ownership to do what they want to do we have capitalism even in the garbage imperfect way that it exists in the world people are rich enough to get a hold of the basics the the caught the amount of people's income that they spend on food for instance has plummeted dramatically the amount of people's income that they spend on housing has plummeted jamak dramatically I know it doesn't feel like that in New York City but it is in fact a global truth it's also an American truth and I think that this is something that it's so easy to gloss over which is why I just want to say it over and over like a lame broken record people have enough money to buy their basic stuff and there is no amount of hand waving and talking about the workers and talking about the capitalists that can make that untrue and the idea that we are looking for something else for self-actualization is totally misguided people should be able to choose what their own best life looks like the maximizing of the area for personal choice absolutely starts with providing the basics and that's what capitalism does the answer is no it can't this is my time you're taking up look a couple of factual issues here I want to respond to two fact real issues quickly but Nick and Katherine brought up this idea that in the last 15 years there's been a massive decrease in poverty rates around the world this is really driven by China there plizz a little bit misleading I don't want to be the point he had professor here but it's a little bit misleading what they're saying and China is a country in which 50% of the revenue is still controlled by the state if that's your vision of capitalism it's not quite where you want it to be secondly this is more important Catherine Catherine and Nick you cannot be serious when you're talking about the United States Nikki said three out of four Americans are better off right now than they were what thirty years ago absolutely untrue Catherine you're saying that even maybe outside in New York it seems misleading but outside the country even in the last 20 years the poor are better off absolutely untrue we're living through the first period in history in the last 40 years in the United States the bottom 50% of this country has not seen its wages or its income rise and this is Raj Chetty from Stanford this is Nicola this is a pic Eddie this is Emmanuel Saez study after study after study is showing this why does that matter Nick says we think on the Jacobin side the capitalism doesn't have bargaining quite the contrary it absolutely has bargaining the point is the bargain itself between employer and employee it's what's resulted in the stagnating incomes for the bottom why is it resulted in it because they've their trade unions the supporting institutions from the state have been dismantled and so now what we have is a complete despotism of the employers this is not an aberration this is capitalism this is what you get when you take away the supports for working people now let me address the question very directly does capitalism maximize people's chances for developing their capacities yeah if you're on the top if you're wealthy but for the rest of them no and there's three reasons just think about this commonsensical e what does it take for you to develop your capacities well it takes three things autonomy you should have the freedom as my colleagues are saying to decide what you want to do time to develop them and in the end money all right for the both of the working time of a working American they are presiding in a tyranny a private tyranny which is called the workplace by the way.this Catherine you said that civil liberties are enhanced wherever there's private property you can't be serious the one place in America where you do not have full rights of speech is in the workplace the place where that is the essence of private property you think you want to organize a union you're fired you want to talk when we told you not to you're fired you want to go take a piss when we told you not to you're fired these are called employment rights and these are encroachments of people's autonomy no autonomy there secondly time do you know eighty three percent of Americans today feel that they're stressed why are they stressed underpaid overworked overworked means you are killing yourself at work and what happens when you're away at home you're simply recovering to go back to work what what autonomy what flourishing thank you so here's a question you know and as Katherine pointed out and is underscored and I I agree with completely we're not talking about perfection capitalist perfection right here and now versus the socialist paradise we're talking about a you know with this I I'm not a religious person but I believe in original sin and we live in a fallen world China is more capitalist than it was fifteen or twenty years ago it has a ton long way to go to where it would even be similar to living in Mississippi but to the extent that it's more capitalistic fewer people there are starving to death that it's also true in the continent of Africa where between 2000 and 2015 two-way trade between the United States and Africa more than doubled and the the extreme poverty rate which is generally defined as living on a dollar at ninety or less for purchase power purchase power parity has massively declined because it's more capitalistic than it was there is more commerce there is more trade there is more goods that I own that I sell to you and you buy and you sell me something back also it what I said was that if you look and this is scholarship done by Scott Winship drawing off at the panel survey of income dynamics it is not controversial in the field of income mobility three out of four people by the time you turn 40 you were doing better off than your parents were it's an old song and it's a really nice song to keep saying this is the first generation in America that will live at a lower rate than before think about it yourself when's the last time you bought a TV and when is the last time you paid more in dollar amounts not accounting for inflation or better features or anything things have been getting cheaper and cheaper in nominal dollars and also in the amount of work that the average worker has to do in order to do it so things are getting better where they need to get better still is to remove restraints on individual rights so we're not locking people up for nonsense nonviolent drugs and things like that a lot of it we place for improvement but economic stagnation is not actually what we're talking about here ok so now we're going to move into something a little bit more informal and what I want to know of reason is it your position that just because capitalism has given us as you said a world overflowing with crap that the inequalities that that creates you know the kind of desperate stories that we are all familiar with from our healthcare system you know the people who have these inhumane scheduling you know scheduling systems that kind of defeat any attempts at family life or stability you know all these just-in-time scheduling systems is it your position that that's basically worth it for the world full of crap that capitalism creates so a couple things the first is that those things those horrors of working life are thing that are more common in poorer societies so in that sense yes we are saying those things are that that the world full of crap corresponds to fewer of those things in the world we are not saying that the the world full of crap is contingent on those things in fact I think it is very likely that the next 20 years will see a heck of a lot more crap and a lot less of the kind of you know abusive practices that we hear about all the time that workers experience that will be in part because of political advocacy it will also be though because of the sheer raw wealth of our society when we have more money one of the luxury goods that we consume is moral goodness we actually consume I know it sounds crazy go with me guys just for a hot second here we we in the united states as we have gotten richer we emit less we are more conscious about our environmental footprint that's something that we have the luxury to do because we're rich and you see that in lots of other areas but if that's true I mean the United States is richer than a lot of Scandinavian countries in terms of per capita income but there but you have abuses of workers here you know people being bankrupted by the healthcare system you have people being bankrupted by childbirth that we don't have in countries that aren't as rich as us but have just devoted themselves to a more equitable system so I think there's there's a couple things going on one is that when people are richer than the benefits of that the the rapidity of change by which those riches make our lives tangibly better changes from sector to sector and I would argue in the United States that health care and education are two places that are heavily dominated by the public sector these are not places where you've let the market get in and improve people's situations we have not actually realized the system of free labor people are much more trapped in a health care job or a government job or a teaching job than they are I would argue in a lot of other sectors taking again the example of you know Scandinavian social democracy when you talk about socialism and particularly market socialism how is that different then I mean how is the system that you're proposing different than just a generous European welfare state so I would say we we start at a certain level thinking about what we want to see in a society what are we against in capitalism and I think you know socialists especially those of us for Marxist backgrounds like to have very scientific pretensions right we you know what's called scientific socialism for that reason but it's it core it's a moral and ethical complaint you know we're against exploitation were against hierarchy to whatever extent it can be abated we want to see that sort of society we've seen that the struggles of the workers movement in much of Europe in in Scandinavia but also elsewhere have built welfare states that have given people a greater range of choice and opportunity and we see that working now it this system also has a bit of an Achilles heel though because even though put workers in a commanding position of power compared to almost anywhere else it kept investment decisions in the hands of capitalist and that allowed them to slowly undermine and erode all that was gained that's why I think if you want a sustainable long term socialism then you need to really go beyond social democracy and socialized investment now when it comes to markets or not markets I mean I want what works I mean I think this is something where we're we could say that given our experience based on the past of central planning of course not that that model is broken in the future with computing with other things maybe a more participatory system would work or maybe we'll still have questions of calculations where we might need need the market to me that's a question that that has to be decided not i priori been the process is struggle but we do envision a society without class a society after capitalism not just socialism within capitalism so most of us I think would agree that you can't you know that capitalism kind of has to answer for the sins of actually existing capitalism right that you can't just talk about it is this theoretical abstraction so why shouldn't the very well-documented horrors of communism impact how people think about the possibilities of of socialism and why shouldn't that make them wary about something that goes beyond just social democracy well I think I think it's some level of course it it should impact the thinking of any thinking person right any any history any past experience you can't ignore it has to factor in but you know in the same way that we when we talk about reasons model no one's here as mentioned Pinochet no one's mentioned Franco of course because these are obviously different things I think I think suffice to say in the historical record of the 20th century you've seen democratic experiments and socialism you've seen movements that have attained great power even state power and honored and respected democracy while still extending social and economic rights from the workers movement in places like Scandinavia or like in Sweden in Norway and a whole host of other places including in Central America and Nicaragua where the Left movements have participated in peaceful transfers of power that have better participate in real law and of course you've also seen in other instances gross violations of people's dignity and rights are you seeing that on both sides I think suffice to say that both socialism and capitalism are capable of democratic forms and authoritarian forms but I don't I don't think that people should keep these things out of their their mind I think it's it's important but also I would say it is important to know that the democratic socialist tradition of the United States is long-standing existed far before the Soviet Union exists now afterwards and many of these people were the most incisive and intelligent critics of Stalinism as a political system in fact our knowledge even the word Stalinism how I used to describe it came in many ways from the Democratic Left you guys one more question before we turn to the final proposition but explain to me how a poor person in the United States you know being going to a shitty public school being born into substandard with treated with substandard medical care how is that person more free than a person born into a European country a poor person born into a European country with cradle to the grave welfare state yeah well first off we should recognize that they can move to America or they can come here when we're talking about when we're talking about European democracies we're talking about a place that is generally hostile to immigration has been historically continues to be and I say this to somebody I'm an open borders person I think anybody who anybody who wants to come to the United States should be allowed to enter and that that's not a small thing on the left that is usually meant that I am somehow trying to stoke the reserve army of the unemployed to drive down wages so that capitalists can get more wealthy even the wealthy are still by having low wages in fact what it means is that people can come here and flourish in a way that Europe because of socialism and this is generally true the higher the social welfare state the more homogeneous the population tends to be and they don't like immigrants this is one of the reasons why Donald Trump is not really stupid but I think is profoundly evil even though he is within a few generations of emigrating he would close off America many people on the Left would do that as well many people on the right I think it's a big mistake when you talk about what does it mean to be poor in America you know clearly there are people who are born in bad circumstances the way that you fix that is not by starting to talk about democratic socialism and investing socially it's that you free them from a public school system which despite it massive and ongoing increases in per pupil spending never seems to help the people who need to help the most you free them from that system and I think this is why the libertarian movement has been very forward in the school choice movement so that people have more choices within whatever limits are placed in front of them you do the same thing with health care you liberate the healthcare system from a from a place where 50 cents of every dollar is being spent by the government it doesn't work very well you let Pete there is no reason why health care and education can't be delivered much more cheaply much more innovatively by a flourishing free-market but you know to say why like you know wouldn't it be great if we were all born middle-class in Denmark maybe but that isn't the world we live in the question is we have the poor with us everywhere how do we have fewer of them and how do we give them more options and I would argue that's by limiting the government and providing a basic social safety net and then looking to civil society as well as kind of market socialism within those areas that we agree are going to be under public purview like education and health immigration it seems that the one thing that America actually has historically done better than most countries in Europe is integrate immigrants and part of the backlash against immigrants in the european social democracies right is that people don't like paying all this money for people that they don't see is then and the one thing that makes me despair about the social democratic system that otherwise seems ideal is that it doesn't seem to it seems to crack under the strain of diversity I know it's not true at all a couple of points first let me say something too because what Nick said is really I think important he says that the health care system isn't working and what we need to do is free it up because we've seen that there's too much public money being spent on it public schools aren't working and what we need to do is free them up because there they are clearly are failing and we need to give people more choice by bringing markets and this is important because too often in the United States in these debates when we find something in the public sector isn't working the option always is to privatize and marketize but here's the thing health care in Europe is provided at better quality with at lower costs and with greater scope through the public system it's not private healthcare in in American debates I often seen on somebody come from another country you wonder do Americans know that the rest of the world exists okay let's look at public schools yeah public schools here are failing that's because they've been choked because the funding to them has been choked and there there's a stealth privatization of public education because of the way that they're financed the result beat the option isn't to further privatize them so that the poor get trapped in these apartheid little neighborhoods of theirs in increasingly failing schools and all the kids with money get to leave the option is to genuinely fund them to actually give them money the way they're given money into other advanced industrial countries the insisted of privatizing is a kind of extortion that public support is off the table so either you stay in the houses that we're giving you or we privatize and that's not a fair option it seems to me socialists know whether the rest of the world besides Denmark exists where again then let me answer your your your observation that the abuses that are going on in the workplaces in the United States are mostly something that occurs in poor countries and not so let's talk about these poor countries why did you're right why do they occur in poor countries because poor countries today is what Victorian England was in the 19th century the reason you don't see these abuses occurring in Europe right now isn't because there's something magical about rich countries is because in all these countries there are trade unions there political parties that defend workers and which make it hard for employers to have the despotisms that they have in the United States it is not about rich and poor it's because in more developed countries there's a history of trade unionism the United States stands alone in having absolutely no protection from workers organizations for those workers and that's why the in the u.s. today is a parallel to what you're finding in poor countries what these two were zones of the world have in is no protection for workers and the unbridled power of employers that's why now so that's not Denmark that's the rest of the world what join unions also stand up for though is they stand up for workers to the exclusion of people who would hope someday to be workers in our country they stand up again that's not true against immigrants they stand up for workers internal measure against people who want to work for lower wages they want to make that illegal and those people otherwise don't have jobs at all I honestly I honestly think that standing up for workers is is an unexamined sentence that should be more closely examined because there are people whose interests are in opposition to workers who need our help I didn't hear all that but let me just try to systematically answer what Michelle raised and I'm sorry I didn't hear everything you said Catherine it is true that in Europe right now there is a kind of a backlash against immigration among certain sections of population but let's also keep something else in mind the wave of migrants and immigrants who came out of the Middle East Iraq and Syria over the last 12 years it's quite extraordinary how in Europe they were welcomed now there has in the midst of that also been a backlash that is not an artifact of social democracy that's not an artifact of the welfare state it is an artifact of the fact that since the establishment of the European Union wages in Europe have stagnated now for more than 15 years in Germany and England has gone through its worst period of wage stagnation and what they're seeing when they look out into the world what they see is that our mainstream parties our own states are doing nothing to defend our wages while our benefits are being cut the reason they point to the immigrants isn't because something about social democracy it's because all the establishment is telling them that there is nothing that we're going to do to improve your economic lot the Europe has been in an unrelenting austerity now for more than 15 years the far-right comes in and pass the far-right says to them here's here's why your wages are stagnating it's because these people are coming in and taking it away there's no other political party right now that's addressing the issue other than the far-right until the last 10 years immigration has not been an issue in Europe it's become an issue right now because of the fact of the the stagnating standards of living and a sty and that all is because of the increasing power of the right the increasing power of corporations and the increasing insecurity of the poor feeling that has nothing to do with social democracy per se it has to do once again with the altered balance of power we have to I think we have to move on to the final question which is yes I said at the beginning is capitalism the best way to improve standards of living ensure political and economic freedom and provide opportunity before I respond just very quickly I want to thank reason for participating I sent catherine an e-mail at like noon with the rough idea and she responded within a couple hours you know libertarians see market opportunities I'll give them that and thank you for the crowd for being from both sides being so respectful I overheard some very nice conversation you know we're not liberals will be like discourse is nice just please keep it there I can't imagine the what the offspring of a socialist and libertarian would be probably the most socially inept human being so so this this question itself is a bit it's a bit unfair it's a bit too easy for us simply because we can't compare a theoretical system with a existing one in good faith right I can tell you that socialism would be way better I can make all sorts of assertions but that wouldn't be fair in a debate what we can do is start with a reality where we are now and then think about what a just society would look like we think a just society would be one in which everyone is able to reach their potential the socialist scientist Stephen Jay Gould used to say about Einstein that he was less certain less interested in and impressed with his his brain that were the fact that people of equal talent lived and died in sweatshops and cotton fields so if the system isn't allowing people to reach their potential which I think we would all admit it isn't if but it's still filled with amazing wealth but also exploitation and poverty and also it's terrible misery then how could we make it better we could try to tame the system at first we could try to build a welfare straight to try to get the basics at least we're all unique and different but we can all only develop these unique abilities in a society with a different sort of priority a place where inequities are tackled so we all truly have a fair shot at life this would mean at least a society should be able to socially provide people with the necessities food housing education I'm glad we already got Nicol one of them healthcare childcare to allow for individual flourishing and then we look again and we say can we go further can we move beyond the welfare state into a more democratic participatory society this is an open question we know the social democracy works we also know it's it's it's limits maybe we could go behind beyond it I promised a lot of my work a lot of my life on the idea that we we can but we do throw a by testing by pushing its boundaries it's a democratic process that can move forward but also one that can move move backwards I imagine in a in a capitalist society they'll be plenty socialist society there'll be plenty of room for Bernie and Catherine to have a party of three four percent on the fringe of society honestly wouldn't be much of a change for any of us but but where we end up wherever we end up it won't be a utopia you know it'll still be a place where you could get your heart broken and you might still be depressed you might still feel lonely it won't cure your your stomach stomach aches your nausea indigestion and all that stuff but in the process of getting there I think we'll solve a few of our animal problems so we begin to start tackling our human ones socialists know the old system isn't working and we know that a democratic one ordinary people could live for a year more fulfilling lives is possible that's the extent of the claims that I could make and if you're interested in these ideas I think you'll be part of a long multi-generational movement from Eugene Debs to Bernie Sanders then Oh perhaps one day make of the earth a homeland rather than in exile [Applause] you know it's funny what you said just now your system won't stop you from being heartbroken or lonely it won't cure your heartburn or your stomachache capitalism kind of does do those things actually I'm sure all y'all have been on tinder I'm sure all y'all about pepto-bismol those are the gifts of capitalism and it sounds silly but it's true capitalism as it exists in the world isn't perfect I appreciate the extent to which we have managed to curb both of our impulses to compare real to imaginary and vice-versa in this discussion it's been an absolute pleasure a rare one and I think I want to wrap up is just to say that the virtues that capitalism Fosters are not sexy ones right it is not struggle and martial courage and solidarity the virtues that capitalism Foster's our prudence and thrift and politeness and like to be to be the guy who's fighting for politeness is not a sexy place to be but I actually think it's the right place to be a world in which people are fundamentally basically decent to each other because they are going to engage in voluntary market transactions to get the stuff they need in which people can find love and cure their stomachache and go down to the Duane Reade sand over some money hand over whatever you need the double thank you in which everyone got what they wanted is an underrated miracle that capitalism has provided that the free market enterprise system embedded in capitalism embedded in modern liberalism has provided and I think the idea of separating the crap from the broader system is misguided the crap is the system and the system is awesome now again it's not as it exists in the real world perfect I will say that a million times over Reason magazine literally publishes 80 pages every month about how the current system is not the magical capitalist free enterprise system we would like to see but what I want to say is that if we are trying to create a world where people can make their own choices about their own lives capitalism does better than socialism even than the wimpy kind of capitalistic socialism that these dudes keep flogging and I think that the reason that's true is because it actually is a powerful force for bringing poorer people into more access to basic income to fundamentals of life just because the rich people get richer doesn't mean the poor people aren't dramatically better off and freer under a capitalist system that is what the last 20 years have shown I think that's what the next 20 years can show particularly in the developing world if only we can let it [Applause] well this really went by fast I thought we were just getting warmed up I really do I want to thank obviously all of you who came here Jason Fartman has not been mentioned yet and he did incredible work you may not know this for all of his radical talk Bosco here's a capitalist because he runs a magazine and Jason's one of his workers so work to the worker and for Michelle of course for being so kind and coming here and okay this doesn't go into my three minutes by the way all right I'd like if possible for Nick to to think about this and address this ninka said that capitalism what it essentially is is a implementation or operationalization of liberal political philosophy and what I want to suggest is capitalism is completely inconsistent with liberal political philosophy and if you really do take liberty and freedom seriously you have to be a socialist there's no way around that and let me tell you why the essence of liberal political philosophy is not the protection of property this is something that was foisted on to it in the twentieth century because of liberalism's fear of socialism the essence of liberalism from the moment of its founding which Rousseau through Kant through John Stuart Mill the essence of it was to treat people as equals the moral equality of human beings not equal treatment not to give them equal money not to give them equal income but to recognize the essential moral equality the intrinsic worth of human beings that's liberalism wait wait it gets better what capitalism is a system what capitalism is is a system which systematically forces the subordination the willing subordination of the majority of the population to an unbridled Authority that forces them to subordinate every other one of their longings for artistic expression for love for health for whatever they want to do to the imperatives of the job it systematically pits them against each other it forces people to treat each other as means not as ends it forces every worker to see other the other worker as a potential threat to his job the question of immigration that Michelle brought in and which Nick said well this is just a this isn't weak the left calls of the reserve army of labor yeah what it is and that's not the left's fault that's capitalism's fault that when people are moving from one part of the world to the other they are forced to view one another as rivals there's nothing natural about that that's how the labor market works you cannot have a vision of the world in which you insist that people treat each other with respect as Katherine correctly says as moral equals as liberalism and joins us to while you live in a system that is built on power on hierarchy on a Hobbesian war of all against all that's the essence of capitalism and what's motivated socialists from the start is to try to open up a space where people can have mutual respect as Katherine says where they can actually treat each other as ends not as means we have made progress in capitalism towards this it's true but all of that progress has come from battles of the poor led by socialists to try to tame these barbaric aspects of an inhuman system so the question was put that if I really wanted to take liberalism seriously I would have to be a socialist I don't think so you know I've thought it over and Vivek among other thing his history of liberalism is bizarre in that it doesn't actually begin with the beginning of liberalism which predates Locke a couple hundred years before he was talking about and it was about equality under the law and it's very important to understand that what religious fighters in the English Civil War we're fighting about is that we are all equal under the in the eyes of God and so that a ruler doesn't have an absolute claim to any of our especially our lives and it's the in that limitation of government power of state power or of the collective in the face or in the in the body of the king that's where liberalism flows from and it's about limiting government based on the idea that we are all ends in ourselves not means to an end and I would argue obviously that capitalism is the system that does a better job of actually implementing that vision and it does it in a lot of ways by releasing us from you know mob accuracy whether it's in the name of a king or in the name of the spirit of the age or anything like that the fact of the matter is as a capitalism as we've been talking about it and we can quibble with the debate definitions you know isn't perfect and it does constantly need to be adjusted one of the great things and what the left used to lament about capitalism before they started going back to talking about late capitalism rather than an advanced capitalism is that capitalism is infinitely malleable and it takes on all of this criticism it puts it into the system and it gives people more time off by the way kids didn't stop working because of Eugene V Debs kids stopped working because technological innovation and capital production got to a point where we didn't need kids in order to grow food or to make socks or do all of the other stuff that we take for granted we produce more stuff with less time and less resources that's good for all of us it gives us time to watch Netflix which also is a product of capitalism not socialism our lives are getting better our food and our culture are getting better our lives are getting longer this isn't instant this is an accidental to capitalism this is because of capitalism of Whole Foods of Netflix of Amazon of the Apple of dreadful pharmaceutical companies that in pursuing the profit motive mostly go out of business and go bankrupt but every once in a while come up with pepto-bismol or antidepressants or all sorts of things are viagra you name it it's out there the contraceptive pill was not a socialist fantasy it was a capitalist reality and it's a good thing capitalism helps us grow it helps us energize ourselves and live our life to a fuller potential what we do need is not to debate capitalism but to take the wheels off of things we need to stop shooting wars and we need to stop wars on drugs we need to allow people to be more free not just from the state but from society in a way that says we don't like the way that you want to live we don't like the way you look we don't want you to live there and get rid of those impediments which come primarily from the state and vested interests certainly not from capitalists who are happy to sell anybody anywhere anything they want thank you so much um yes [Applause] you




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