Monday, March 14, 2016

Distinguishing Between the Conceptions of Ownership in Capitalism and Socialism

Responding to yet another discussion about socialism on Facebook, I wanted to find out what comes up on a Youtube search for socialism.  One of the first names that came up sounded familiar:

I've never listened to Stefan Molyneux talk before.  It's actually quite painful.  The way he reduces philosophy to a specific subset of moral realism is almost as cringey as his style of overconfident, oversimplified, pseudo-mystical rhetoric.  He puts more energy into sounding profound than being cogent:  "It's not up to you.t's not up to me.  It just is."

lol k.  Good job making it sound like it's an uncontroversial statement, which makes your audience's job annoyingly difficult.  But this is not uncontroversial.  Plenty of people disagree with the premise of moral realism itself, and plenty more who accept it will posit a different set of moral propositions as what "just is."

One of the most prominent points argued by capitalists is that socializing the means of production is somehow stealing from the owners of the industries.  Molyneux makes this point, but with improper argumentation and a poor foundation.  In an effort to reduce his own cognitive dissonance through heuristic-heavy, quasi-rational, "objective" measures, he denies that there are subjective assumptions present in his own ideology.

In this case, Molyneux notably presumes that the workers of a factory shouldn't be considered co-owners of the business they work in.  This is a subjective tenet of capitalism.  Socialism is founded on a mutually exclusive subjective tenet, which is that all employees who contribute their labor, by virtue of the nature of this relationship, possess a degree of ownership over that labor and the business it joins other labor to form.  The consequence of this perspective is that, in the creation of modern contracts, the right to profit from stake in the business is coercively and unjustly purchased from employees by the executives.

One of the more blatant flaws in Molyneux's argumentation is purposefully conflating static ownership of wealth with the processes that generate wealth.  Mainstream capitalist apologia posits that the simple creation of contracts by business owners with employees--contracts where the executives retain all ownership of the business and its profits--is adequate moral justification for that ownership.  Therefore, the argument goes, it is always wrong to take any profits or business stake from business owners, because there were justifiable grounds for the attainment of that property.  But this subjective premise ignores that these contracts were the consequence of iniquitous positions from which the involved parties created and ratified their contracts.  Because the positions of employer and employee are so imbalanced, and there is no external guarantee of the employee's ownership of their own labor, there is substantial extortion going on in contract ratification in all non-employee-owned businesses.

Look at it this way:  should profits of a business not be distributed among those who have worked to create that profit?  Why should that profit only be given to those in a business who contribute a specific type of labor?  Executives are, of course, useful, but so is every other worker.  Their positions may be relatively unique, but it is a subjective claim to say that uniqueness confers unique value--value is intrinsically subjective, as is the system by which it is measured.  Furthermore, why should that value, unique or not, confer a unique right to retrieve all profits from the business' collective operations?

The reason for this extortion of labor is not that it's morally justified, but that it's possible.  It's a form of extortion facilitated by a prior imbalance of power and wealth.  Because executives have wealth, they have the power to bypass ethical scrutability and form contracts that effectively rob employees of their right to earn profits, which is to say rob employees of their labor.

It seems intuitive that ownership of one's own labor should be considered an inalienable right.  A case in which somebody's labor can be owned by another person seems to be in discordance with the concept that people have inalienable agency over their own decisions.  If it is wrong to own a person's agency by keeping them as a slave, and if this is wrong regardless of what legal contracts may be formed to constitute this ownership, then it should be similarly wrong to own somebody else's labor.  It should be illegal to purchase labor, and therefore illegal to form contracts where the entire business and its constituent labor are owned not by all of the employees as a collective, but by a subset of the corporate participants.

That is the paradigm shift proposed by socialism.  Socialism is not founded upon taking from those who have too much; it is doubly about ensuring contracts are equitable and refining a social contract that maximally provides basic fundamentals of living for everybody.   Today, people's ability to maneuver money has become completely dissociated from their contribution to society, or even to their business.  Capitalist apologia all but forgets the numerous investments that society has made in every individual, and ignores the reality that no individual could be nearly as rich as they are without standing on the shoulders of giants, without earning money for other people's labor.  Socialism presumes that society has a collective, gestalt wealth that can't really be said to be owned by anybody, and this wealth should be distributed in a maximally utilitarian fashion.  It doesn't seek to redistribute ownership merely because it will balance out wealth; it seeks to correct for economic institutions that belie a cogent conception of ownership and real value.  The goal, then, is not to steal, but to reclaim, and to fairly distribute a portion that should always have been considered as belonging to society as a whole.

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