G. A. Cohen - Against Capitalism - Part 2



now let's grant that more output is a good thing but it's also true that for most people what they have to do to earn a living isn't a source of joy most people's jobs after all are such that they benefit not only from more goods and services but also from a shorter working day and longer holidays just consider if God gave all of us the pay we now get and granted us freedom to choose whether or not to work at our present jobs for as long as we pleased but for no extra pay then there'd be a big increase in leisure time pursuits so improved productivity makes two things possible it makes possible either more output or less toil or of course some mixture of both but capitalism is biased in favor of the first option only increased output since the other reduction of toil threatens a sacrifice of the profit associated with greater output and sales what does the firm do when the efficiency of its production improves well it doesn't just reduce the working day of its employees and produce the same amount as before instead it makes more stuff it makes more of the goods it was already making or if that isn't possible because the demand for what it's selling won't expand then it lays off part of its workforce and seeks a new line of production in which to invest the money it thereby saves eventually new jobs are created and output continues to expand although there's a lot of unemployment and suffering along the way now the consequence of the increasing output which capitalism favors is increasing consumption and so we get an endless chase after consumer goods just because capitalist firms are geared to making money and not to serving the interests of consumers Alfred P Sloan who once ran General Motors in the States said that it was the business of the automobile industry to make money not cars I agree and that I'm saying is why it makes so many cars it would make far fewer if its goal weren't money but say providing people with an efficient and an inoffensive form of transport if the aim of production were the satisfaction of need then rather less would be produced and consumed than is in fact produced and consumed and most of us would lead less anxious lives and have more time and energy for the cultivation and enjoyment of our own powers now I'm not some kind of fanatical Puritan who's against consumer goods I'm not knocking consumer goods consumer goods are fine but the trouble with the chase after goods in a capitalist society is that we'll always most of us want more Goods than we can get since the capitalist system operates to ensure that people's desire for goods is never satisfied business of course wants contented customers but they mustn't become too contented since when customers are satisfied with what they've got they buy less and work less and business dwindles that's why in a capitalist society an enormous amount of effort and talent goes into trying to get people to want what they don't have that's why there's feverish product innovation huge investments in sales and advertising and planned obsolescence in order to keep going as a system capitalism has to keep people on the go and it creates a great deal of strain and nervous tension the Rockefellers make sure that the Smiths need to keep up with the Joneses and in a forlorn attempt to keep up because not everybody can manage to keep up people work their lives away and sometimes take extra jobs in order to buy things they don't have the time to enjoy because of the time they spend working to buy them well in earlier periods of capitalist history its preference for output can bird on the system a progressive historical role capitalism raised us above the scarcity imposed by nature under which pre-capitalist peasants laboured but as that natural scarcity recedes the output preference renders capitalism reactionary it can't realize the possibilities of liberation it creates having lifted the burden of natural scarcity it contrives an artificial scarcity which means that people never feel they have enough capitalism brings humanity to the very threshold of liberation and then locks the door we get near it but we remain on a treadmill just outside it sometimes people fall off that treadmill and recently in this country that's happened on a large scale I'm referring again to the problem of unemployment which is now enormous in Britain the same system that overworks people in the interest of profit also deprives them entirely of work when it's not profitable to employ them and what we get as a result is not something that we could imagine a reasonable amount of work and a balanced existence for everyone but grotesque over employment for some together with rending unemployment for others how can they say that this system satisfies human need when homeless people in Britain need housing and unemployed bricklayers need work how can anybody think that it's a system that promotes human benefit when it projects the message but the only way to self-esteem is to be the owner of a BMW or at least a Ford Sierra and then it throws millions of families into a destitution where they can barely afford sausages to feed their children so I'm very skeptical about the claim that capitalism is so good at satisfying our needs as consumers and anyway people have needs which go beyond the need to consume one of those needs will because it's so important occupy most of the rest of this talk it's a person's need to develop and exercise his or her talents when people's capacities lie unused they don't enjoy the zest for life which comes when their faculties flourish now people are able to develop themselves only when they get good education but in a capitalist society the education of children is threatened by those who seek to fit education to the narrow demands of the labour market and some of them think that what's now needed to restore profitability to an ailing British capitalism is a lot of cheap unskilled labour and they conclude that education should be restricted to ensure that it'll supply that labour the present Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson said in a speech a couple of years ago that we should now think about training people for jobs which are as he put it not so much low tech as no tech now what sort of education is contemplated in that snappy statement not so much low tech as no tech not an education that nourishes the creative powers of young people and brings forth their full capacity Nigel Lawson is saying that it's dangerous to educate the young too much because then we produce cultivated people who aren't suited to the low-grade jobs the market will offer them an official at the Department of Education and science recently said something similar he said and I'm here quoting his words that we're beginning to create aspirations which society cannot match when young people can't find work which meets their abilities and expectations then we're only creating frustration with disturbing social consequences we have to ration educational opportunities so that society can cope with the output of Education people must be educated once more to know their place that's the end of the quote well what have we got here something very frightened we've got a policy of deliberately restricting educational provision so that state schools can produce willing sellers of low-grade labor power it's hard to imagine a more undemocratic approach to education I noticed that to prefer a democratic distribution of educational opportunity you don't have to believe that everyone is just as clever as everyone else Nigel Lawson isn't saying that most people are too dim to benefit from a high level of education it's precisely because people respond well to education that the problem which worries him arises you see there's a lot of talent in almost every human being you can see it in kids but in most people that talent remains undeveloped since they haven't had the time and the freedom and the facilities to develop it throughout history only a leisured minority have enjoyed such freedom on the backs of the toiling majority and that's been unavoidable up to now but now it's no longer unavoidable we have a superb technology which could be used to restrict unwanted labor to a modest place in life but capitalism doesn't use that technology in a liberating way it continues to imprison people in largely unfulfilled work and it shrinks from providing the enriching education which the technology it has created makes possible some supporters of British capitalism disagree with Lawson's idea that there's a danger that people will get too much education they say that what the market now needs is a better trained labor force well whoever's right about that I'm confident that we shouldn't stake our children's future on the hope that the capitalist market will need what's good for them the educational system shouldn't be subject to the capricious demands of capitalism and it shouldn't cater to the tendency of capitalism to treat enormous numbers of people as nothing but sources of profit and when they can't be profitably exploited as redundant and expendable because that's what the capitalist firm does is it possible to create a society which goes beyond the unequal treatment that capitalism imposes many would say that the idea of such a society is an idle dream many would agree with the negative things I've said about capitalism but they'd say look there's no point getting upset about it there's always been inequality of one kind or another and there always will be but I think that reading of history is too pessimistic there's actually much less inequality now and there was for instance a hundred years ago a hundred years ago only a few radicals proposed that everybody should have the vote others thought that was a dangerous idea and most would have considered it to be an unrealistic one but today we have the vote we are a political democracy but we're not an economic democracy we don't share our material resources and most people in this country would regard that as an unrealistic idea yet I'm sure it's an idea whose time will come Society won't always be divided into those who control its resources and those who have only their own labor to sell but it'll take a lot of thought to work out the design of a democratic economic order and it'll take a lot of struggle against privilege and power to bring it about we can't go back to being independent peasant communities and even if we could we'd be sacrificing the tremendous gains we owe to capitalism if we did so nor is anybody going to provide us with schmooze the obstacles to economic democracy are considerable but just as no one now would defend slavery or serfdom I believe that a day will come when no one will be able to defend a form of society in which a minority profit from the dispossession of the majority an edited version




Comments
  1. Everybody with an objection to capitalist coercion, volunteering to reduce their labour time must use this 'liberated time' to supplement their own shelter, safety, education, entertainment, inebriant & nutrition, since they may not have enough to purchase all of life's essentials in required quantity.

    For many, submission to capital power is preferable since money is such a convenient way to enlist the cooperation of strangers in providing essentials.

    Is time spent in amateur, localised activity really more valuable than providing & distributing professional goods & services to other demand-supplicants?

    The answer really depends on your specific attitude to external direction of your time, your ability to keep safe & entertained & skill at making your own beer.

  2. What is this propaganda?  Bet you Professor Cohen benefited just fine from capitalism in his day job, or indeed was involved in it and fuelled it in his daily life.

  3. Communism is very much an Enlightenment idea, and as for executions, you're more like a "communist" in the popular American sense than any of the peaceniks posting here

  4. Even if it was part of "human nature". If there's a shred of possibility of eliminating this from your behavior, instead of feeding off it and nurturing it like capitalism does, then that's a possibility worth exploring. Whether capitalism only triggers and exploits a set of inherent urges or creates them from scratch is less important when the result is still disastrous.

  5. Personally I think that capitalism has created this widespread consumer mentality. Look at the few tribes of people who have remained untouched by capitalism. They don't thrive off of competition between their members but rather work together to survive. Also, look at evolution: humans (assuming that creationism out of the picture) evolved from other species. No species of animal accumulates resources to the rate that capitalists do. If so, there would be no more water buffalo where lions hunt

  6. And I as well: is it "human nature" that makes people want more? Or is it the capability of humans to devise language games in order to avert actually confronting distressing concepts – like cultural change due to the new circumstances created by political/technological development that place newer generations in different contexts – that allows us to construct such semiotic fictions like "human nature"? We can dance this dance forever. Because no one brought up this "human nature" you speak of.

  7. you got me! i dont go to college so therefore my point is invalid. look if individuals are too dumb to wisely select, then logically its even more of a stretch that they can wisely elect…

  8. Sausage comment for the win.

    I'm refreshed by different ideas about economic theories, and will continue researching on the subject, as to fill myself with information that will hopefully get me to spread the word about said theory and to get more people to become aware that there are different ways to go about things than what tradition tells us. To be scared of change is stagnating, but surely the change would have to be gradual, so patience is probably necessary, as well.

  9. silly advertisements dont fool the well educated. the fear of 'capitalists' advertising everybody into oblivion is a stretch. especially if youre advocating a state, which monopolized education is a far stronger source of misguidance. we were incarcerated in classes we (mostly) hated for our entire youth

  10. if a school was not sufficiently teaching a child the parent could pull them out. there would be many schools with no particular allegiance to some seedy company. the burden of proof would be on the school to show parents that their curriculum was getting their graduates into desirable jobs and those schools would flourish.

  11. many of this mans critiques are critiques of government, not free trade in my opinion. people with a monopoly on education purposely under-educating the populace to 'know their place' is absolutely not a criticism of capitalism. it suggests that concepts of the free market need to be extended to education of the young, so they can shop for a school that meets their needs and interests..

  12. his whole thesis is based on the fact that people are too stupid not to fall victim to ADVERTISEMENTS and thus become mindless consumerists. if this is the truth, then certainly that kind of bars the same populace from being capable of electing virtuous leaders, they are definitely going to be too stupid to prevent unscrupulous organizers from corrupting the system. seems like one flaw right there.

  13. Question is, if somebody in the capitalism doesn´t have more rights than others, because he could create these rules of law. Or if he is automatically is in the better position to earn money because he can use additional assets I do not have. Then sheer inequality of wealth undermine my ability to play within the rules and have influence on inability to comment the rules. Is not this way to totalitarianism too?

  14. It's amusing. Here in America, where "democracy" is heralded as the greatest thing since transportable music, we still don't overwhelmingly incorporate democracy into our workplaces. No, we leave that to the Board of Directors or any another undemocratically selected conglomerate. Hey, at least we get to elect a whole score of inept, crony buffoons to office.

  15. Capitalism is based on freedom: Anyone can earn as much money as possible within the rules of law. Socialism and communism on the other hand suppress people. While in capitalism everyone can have the same rights, in socialism some people by definition have to have more rights than the rest of the population since they must have the right to redistribute wealth. Therefore, the call for equality of wealth automatically undermines equality of rights. This is the seed of totalitarianism.

  16. This is so weak. He is just talking about what he perceives to be wrong with capitalism without proposing any alternatives. Sure, capitalism is not perfect, but it is better than any other economic system, and certainly superior to socialism and capitalism.

  17. 08:46-08:50 : 'People must be educated to know there place.' Ha ha ha ha.A rather chilling quote. And when they don't know their place, they'll riot and steal trainers, like in the UK some months ago. Notice no BOOK SHOPS got looted!!!!

  18. But the consumers longing is implacable; companies advertise new products day after day, brainwashing people into thinking that they need them, creating the conditions for the desire, i.e., you don't own their latest product, you're deemed as poor or lame. One day, they may deliberately pollute our air, blame it on Islamic terrorists or Communists, and guess what, you'll have to buy their newfangled gas masks.

  19. Is this guy daft? His arguments are childish displaying his ignorance of the division of labor and allocation of resources.Does he consider the government enforced barriers (through unions and licensing )which prevents the construction worker from offering his labor either at a lower rate, or in a field which he may have lesser experience but is still competent?Of course not.Probably to busy smoking crack with his shmoos to come up with some real arguments.

  20. 6:17 "They can barely afford to buy sausages to feed their children"
    Guy is hilarious, though I agree with his whole talk. Satisfyingly articulate on an argument that puts marbles in most people's mouths.

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