Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 14, 2010

Creative Destruction

Filed under: economics,media,war — louisproyect @ 8:18 pm

Catherine Rampell: thinks that creative destruction has its uses

Two days ago the New York Times ran an article by economics editor Catherine Rampell titled The New Poor: In Job Market Shift, Some Workers Are Left Behind that focused on the largely middle-aged unemployed who will probably never work again. For example, 52 year old administrative assistant Cynthia Norton has been working part-time at Walmart while sending resumes everywhere but nobody gets back to her. She is part of a much bigger picture:

Ms. Norton is one of 1.7 million Americans who were employed in clerical and administrative positions when the recession began, but were no longer working in that occupation by the end of last year. There have also been outsize job losses in other occupation categories that seem unlikely to be revived during the economic recovery. The number of printing machine operators, for example, was nearly halved from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2009. The number of people employed as travel agents fell by 40 percent.

But Ms. Rampell finds the silver lining in this dark cloud:

This “creative destruction” in the job market can benefit the economy.

Pruning relatively less-efficient employees like clerks and travel agents, whose work can be done more cheaply by computers or workers abroad, makes American businesses more efficient. Year over year, productivity growth was at its highest level in over 50 years last quarter, pushing corporate profits to record highs and helping the economy grow.

The term “creative destruction” might ring a bell. It was coined by Werner Sombart in his 1913 book “War and Capitalism”. When he was young, Sombart considered himself a Marxist. His notion of creative destruction was obviously drawn from Karl Marx, who, according to some, saw capitalism in terms of the business cycle. With busts following booms, like night follows day, a new round of capital accumulation can begin. This interpretation is particularly associated with Volume Two of Capital that examines this process in great detail. Looking at this material, some Marxists like Eduard Bernstein drew the conclusion that capitalism is an infinitely self-sustaining system.

By 1913, Sombart had dumped the Marxist commitment to social revolution but still retained the idea that there was a basis in Karl Marx for upholding the need for “creative destruction”, a view buttressed by an overly positive interpretation of this passage in the Communist Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind. The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe.

By the 1930s, Sombart had adapted himself fairly well to the Nazi system although he was not gung-ho  like Martin Heidegger or Carl Schmitt. The wiki on Sombart notes:

In 1934 he published Deutscher Sozialismus where he claimed a “new spirit” was beginning to “rule mankind”. The age of capitalism and proletarian socialism was over and with “German socialism” (National-Socialism) taking over.

But despite this, he remained critical. In 1938 he wrote an anthropology text that found fault with the Nazi system and many of his Jewish students remained fond of him.

I suspect, however, that Ms. Rampell is familiar with Joseph Schumpeter’s use of the term rather than Sombart since Schumpeter was an economist, her chosen discipline. In 1942, he wrote a book titled Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy that, like Sombart, retained much of Karl Marx’s methodology but without the political imperative to destroy the system that utilized “creative destruction”. He wrote:

The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as U.S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation–if I may use that biological term–that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in. . . .

The wiki on Schumpeter claims that this theory is wedded to Nikolai Kondratiev’s “long wave” hypothesis that rests on the idea that there are 50 year cycles in which capitalism grows, decays and enters a crisis until a new round of capital accumulation opens up. Not only was the idea attractive to Schumpeter, it was a key part of Ernest Mandel’s economic theories. Unlike Schumpeter, Mandel was on the lookout for social agencies that could break the cycle and put development on a new footing, one based on human need rather than private profit.

Returning to Ms. Rampell’s article, there is one dimension entirely missing. She assumes that “creative destruction” will operate once again in order to foster a new upswing in the capitalist business cycle. But how exactly will that manifest itself? All the signs point to a general decline in business activity unless there is some kind of technological breakthrough equivalent to the computer revolution that fueled growth for decades. Does anybody believe that “green manufacturing” will play the same role? I don’t myself.

One thing does occur to me. Sombart’s book was written in 1913, one year before WWI and was even titled eerily enough “War and Capitalism”. One wonders if the Great War would be seen as part and parcel of “creative destruction”. War, after all, does have a knack for clearing the playing field with even more finality than layoffs. Schumpeter wrote his in 1942, one year into WWII. My guess is that he did not theorize war as the ultimate (and necessary?) instrument of creative destruction but history will record that WWII did introduce a whole rafter of new technology, including aluminum, radar, nuclear power, etc., while bombing old modes of production into oblivion. What a great opportunity it was for capitalism to rebuild Japan, especially after firebombing and atomic bombs did their lovely work.

In my view, there’s something disgusting about this “creative destruction” business especially when it is articulated by a young, snot-nosed Princeton graduate like Catherine Rampell who wrote for Slate, the Village Voice and other such b-list publications before crawling her way up into an editorial job at the NYT. She clearly has learned how to cater her reporting to the ideological needs of the newspaper of record, growing more and more reactionary as the crisis of capitalism deepens.

62 Comments »

  1. A small point. 1912 was not “one year into” WWI, but two years before. For that matter, 1942 was one year into WWII for the US, but not for Europe, where the war started in 1939 with the German-Soviet repartition of Poland.

    War may be connected with “creative” destruction as some writers describe it. The proposition is reasonable, but your dates are wrong.

    Comment by Grumpy Old Man — May 14, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

  2. Oh well. Can’t go to the head of the class every day, Louis. In the meantime, what do we do about these snot nosed Princeton grads climbing their way up? In my work, they’re so busy surrendering seniority rights and the percs acquired by decades of labor struggle from ed workers that you can almost cool yourself in the breeze generated by their wild gesticulations. I say almost because the verbal acompaniment to their movement heats the air substantially.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — May 14, 2010 @ 8:41 pm

  3. You all do realize that the actual point of “creative destruction” is that 52 year old former office assistant at Walmart; the excrescence of the march toward profit. The discarding of humans as so much flotsam. This arrogance and disdain for humanity is the “big picture” treachery articulated by Princeton grads, but rooted in the “practical” politics of lesser-evil so-called progressive politicians. It’s not only bothersome, but evidence in the future indictment of the bourgeois media.

    Comment by Manuel Barrera, PhD — May 14, 2010 @ 9:43 pm

  4. Louis I’m really glad you picked up on this article. I read it last night with some horror: I couldn’t believe I was reading an article the thesis of which was that people being squeezed out of the job market into irrelevancy was a good thing. Having been laid off from a “career” job in my late forties a few years ago and now working freelance–with no benefits–at a much lower level, my interest in reading this article was not abstract. I appreciate you putting this into context. Thanks.

    Comment by ish — May 14, 2010 @ 10:21 pm

  5. It’s time that Ms. Rampell and her co-thinkers experience some “creative destruction.”

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — May 15, 2010 @ 12:32 am

  6. Great piece.It really is a tragedy when you have journalists informing the world that whole groups of people losing their jobs is a ‘good thing’.But,I guess from the point of view of the ‘markets’ and the ‘shareholders’ unemployment is wonderful.And that is all that we ever get from the mainstream media-the point of view of the business class.

    Comment by damien — May 15, 2010 @ 12:57 am

  7. 2 Comments:

    1) Grumpy. FYI. The article above says “1913” twice, 1 year before WWI, aka, “the war to end all wars” — not 1912.

    2) That passage from the Manifesto stuns me with its brilliance every time I read it. I mean how often does one read about the essence of an entire human epoch so profound & artfully encapsulated into a single paragraph?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 15, 2010 @ 1:02 am

  8. The crash of 1929 did not lead into a new Kondratieff wave of expansion as far as I can see (assuming you think Kondratieff waves are a useful concept, which is not at all clear to me either). The 1929 crash is the best analogy for the “destruction” we have recently witnessed. It may have destroyed the lives of workers but it hasn’t destroyed the physical infrastructure in order to rebuild it; it will take a WW3 or climate apocalypse or what have you to do that. Not something I look forward to either, bad as the current situation is.

    This sort of economic philosophy is not much better than digging holes and filling them in again and calling it job creation.

    Comment by Ben Courtice — May 15, 2010 @ 1:59 am

  9. Another comment: That 1.7 million figure I’d wager is really more like 20 million when you include all the stories my trap of a mind recalls reading & hearing re: the similar fates of fifty-somethings over the last decade, that is, for many years BEFORE this latest man-made crash (as opposed to some devastaing force of nature like a tsunami).

    Think about it. The fifty-somethings generation, whatever it’s called, is GI-NORMOUS, the tail end of the baby boomers. Many in that category didn’t need more than a high school education to get a good paying union job, or “union scale” job, but now those are all gone, let alone non-union admin/clerical work which is now long gone too.

    The student radicals of the late 60’s & early 70’s are probably sitting in OK shape now due to their education & saavy, but the working class kids of that era, who remained relatively aloof from the radical students, in some cases maybe even hostile to them, figuring they were priviledged brats, sadly are getting the very capitalist shaft, albeit belatedly, that the socialist-minded students warned them about back in the day.

    I guess my point is the whole sordid saga of the last 40 years reeks of the dripping irony that Michael Moore brilliantly captured in his first & best documentary: Roger & Me. True enough, turns out he broke some of the rules of what genuine documentaries should be by fabricating some sequences, but like Woody Allen admitted in Annie Hall, yes, he’s biased but at least his biased for the left. And that sadly is what’s sorely missing today, a bias for the left.

    Which leaves us with the biggest problem of Marx, the problem of “agency”, that is, class consciousness, the notion that humans will objectively realize that under capitalism: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.”

    All I can say to that end is what was relayed to me in my youth by old timers who lived through the Great Depression, when it took 7 years of suffering & emisertaion of the masses after the crash for spontaneous sit-downs to literally self-organize entities like the AFL-CIO: they’d say, when a couple of people on a block were unemployed nobody really took notice, but when every third household had the inability to make ends meet then people began to wake up and attitudes radically changed.

    I just hope we don’t have to go down Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier” to get there again.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Road_to_Wigan_Pier

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 15, 2010 @ 2:06 am

  10. Comment by kk — May 15, 2010 @ 2:14 am

  11. Comment by kk — May 15, 2010 @ 2:15 am

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    Comment by kk — May 15, 2010 @ 2:18 am

  13. Comment by kangaroo — May 15, 2010 @ 2:22 am

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    Comment by kk — May 15, 2010 @ 2:27 am

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    Comment by kk — May 15, 2010 @ 2:29 am

  16. Indeed, Karl. I have been reading feverishly to “catch up” on this list and this issue of agency has come up in several ways; notably by you and by Joaguín Bustelo (“imperialist privilege”, like the term because it goes well-beyond the notion of White privilege and encapsulates the relative position of the working classes in advanced capitalist countries). I have been following other discussions on blogs and FB. Other less-knowledgeable activists are beginning not only to raise the issue of socialism and Marxist analysis in positive ways, they are also beginning to read and absorb writings of Marxism and later revolutionaries (Cindy Sheehan comes to mind). I wonder if it would be useful to think of these discussions on this list as a potential compendium for publication for a wider audience? Of course, some of the more excessive sectarian language railing against the past abuses of the CP, SP, SWP and the other left groups would need to be edited for the sake of salience, so, I wonder if contributors to the list would see this as a viable idea? In any case, I am enthused at the wealth of knowledge and currency in Marxist history and thought.

    Comment by Manuel Barrera, PhD — May 15, 2010 @ 2:31 am

  17. I thought Nietzsche authored the term “creative destruction”, not Sombart.

    Comment by Maxwell Clark — May 15, 2010 @ 2:43 am

  18. I Think M. Clark is right as the term intially struck me as a process akin to a Hegelian synthesis?

    http://www.google.com/#hl=en&rlz=1R2GGLL_en&q=Nietzsche+creative+destruction&aq=f&aqi=g1&aql=&oq=Nietzsche+creative+destruction&gs_rfai=&fp=ca804df6b427d280

    In any event, like with art, there is undeniably a creative destruction organic to the capitalist mode of production. The problem is, particularly in today’s accellerated micro chip capitalism, the destruction is about as glamorous as watching film clips of imploding casinos in Las Vegas, having from the secular humanist perspective about the same fecundity & allure as the obliteration of Poland during the Nazi Blitzkrieg.

    So much so that, as up to 14 times more than the initial reports of 200,000 gallons per day of crude oil spew into the Gulf of Mexico, one cannot help draw conclusions from the cliched old adage that Trotsky was compelled to dwell upon near the end of his life: Socialism or Barbarism.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 15, 2010 @ 3:18 am

  19. “the problem of “agency”, that is, class consciousness”
    This is indeed the problem; but it’s not always as bad as what the left thinks. The left tends to be very bad at talking to the average working class person; most of our “propaganda” is aimed at students and people who are already radicalIn fact a lot of the left rarely talks to anyone who is not already on our contact database, or interested enough to approach a left literature stall.

    Many working class people (here in Australia) seem very apolitical on the level of official (and left) politics, but if you get talking (at work, or if you go doorknocking, etc) you find they have a pretty sharp understanding of the corruption and undemocratic nature of bourgeois politics, albeit expressed in terms quite different from the traditional Marxist left. There are all sorts of diversions that people get caught up in – conspiracy theories etc; but I think what is lacking is not so much class consciousness as the belief or hope that anyone can make any difference. Most that I’ve read about the US working class suggests that it’s not so different there either.

    Comment by Ben Courtice — May 15, 2010 @ 3:58 am

  20. Rampell doesn’t seem to have much new or original to say about ‘the economy’. Libertarian creative destruction is old ground, and even the dimmest bulb from Princeton should see that things aren’t quite right.

    Grande’ Ole’ Europe, the homeland of capitalism – not Mexico, South Korea etc. – just had to get bailed out to the tune of a trillion dollars to avoid getting locked out of the capital markets. And the sugar high lasted about 24 hours.

    Comment by purple — May 15, 2010 @ 7:58 am

  21. “One wonders if the Great War would be seen as part and parcel of “creative destruction””.

    One doesn’t have to wonder one has to insist that it does!

    We also have to be very careful about the process of so called creative destruction. I work in large public sector organisation. I and my colleagues work on computers, the entire job is done on the computer. We are facing job cuts and not filling vacant posts, this extra work is NOT being done by computers but by the workers that are left. We are being asked to work more intensely and for less money! This is the current reality of ‘creative destruction’, it puts pressures and strains on real people in real time. The people who benefit from this process are those in power and those with wealth and not the people who have to work harder. On the contrary they suffer in every way.
    If I take my organisation as an example the real creative innovative stuff is done by the workers, they collectively come up with new working methods, they come up with the ideas to make jobs more efficient. After all they do the job and know it better than anyone. What ‘creative destruction;’ does is turn people into robots, who don’t have time to think or be innovative, it becomes a very unhealthy period both spiritually and physically. The only plus is that every process of ‘creative destruction’ weakens the ideology of the system and raises the possibility of the ultimate act of creative destruction, the removal of the bourgeois and their layer of unproductive socially useless lackeys.

    Comment by James — May 15, 2010 @ 9:04 am

  22. Right, Ben, Back in the day workers tended to be rubbing shoulders in the mills, mines, fields & factories, lending to a different kind of class consciousness. The atomization of individuals today, a nice ancillary benefit to the bourgeoisie, contributes significantly to the gaping hole in today’s capitalist culture, which abets in turn conspiracy theories, apathy, and the individual’s feeling of powerlessness, not to mention the utter despair well intentioned folks get after realizing they wasted a vote on a puke pile like Obama.

    It’s not that 80 million workers in the USA don’t vote but rather they won’t vote since they sense instinctively that voting has as much chance of changing their lives as winning the lottery, which they feel if they won would actually change their lives. Little do they know how many lottery winners lives are ruined from one thing or another within 5 years of winning but that’s another story.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 15, 2010 @ 9:18 am

  23. Print media like the NYTimes are in such a finacial mess as a result of these same global trends that Ms. Rampell’s pathetic & parasitic job will also be on the chopping block probably sooner rather than later and then she can reflect anew at all the benefits of capitalism’s creative destruction.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 15, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

  24. It is nicer to be younger than older and especially to have a job nobody seems to want to eliminate. But, all jobs are subject to destruction, creative or otherwise. All job security likewise is beyond the capacity of the worker to influence in any real sense. Whatever it may be we do, whatever talents and training we may have, we all waste away in time to either be replaced by another worker, another machine or simply done away with altogether. This is hardly Ms. Rampell’s fault.

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 15, 2010 @ 11:50 pm

  25. Rampell’s smug cheerleading for a brutal system in an anti-worker rag like the Times is certainly her fault. Happily, as noted above, the NYT is a failing newspaper.

    Mr. Greener, I think you’d be more comfortable back at the Huffington Post website among the Kardashians and “nipple slips” coverage.

    Comment by Rose — May 16, 2010 @ 1:18 am

  26. I’ll add that thanks to attitudes like this there is now essentially a cold war going on against the capitalists. Every piece of jingle mail, every Chapter 7, every blown off college loan, every refusal to take a shit job because unemployment pays better adds up to a volley from the working class.

    She’d better hope it doesn’t go hot.

    Comment by Rose — May 16, 2010 @ 1:37 am

  27. Right, R. Greener, capitalism isn’t her fault but cheerleading for it is, especially when she goes out of her way to find silver linings in the emiseration of this huge and vulnerable portion of the working class, like when she smugly says: “Pruning relatively less-efficient employees like clerks and travel agents, whose work can be done more cheaply by computers or workers abroad, makes American businesses more efficient. Year over year, productivity growth was at its highest level in over 50 years last quarter, pushing corporate profits to record highs and helping the economy grow.”

    “Grow” for who? It’s like hearing politicians talk about “American interests” — as if the interests of a Wal-Mart clerk are the same as the bankers, bosses & landlords.

    It’s a disgusting article really and being employed by the NY Times she ought be more careful asking for whom the bell tolls.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 16, 2010 @ 2:29 am

  28. To continue the discussion with Karl Friedrich…

    I think that the state of working class consciousness means the left ought to be organising the Tea Party type mass movement (with different politics, of course!). Why leave the space all to the right? I am trying to do this around climate change in Australia, but the movement we need will have to be broader than just that issue, eventually. Too much of the left says the lack of working class organisation or struggle is a reason for biding our time and one-by-one recruitment. I think we need a different type of left organisation, one that is trying to push the boundaries and start organising the working class – something like the original IWW, or like the civil rights movement, to use US examples. Not to replicate their exact forms, but their spirit of going out and organising the struggle. I was going to say “we need our own Moncada” but that’s probably a bit over the top…

    Comment by Ben Courtice — May 16, 2010 @ 3:17 am

  29. I agree Ben. The tea bagger movement here in the belly of the beast would likely be a fighting anti-capitalist, anti-war left if it weren’t for the pathetic state of the so-called progressives in the US, who put all their energies & faith into electing corporate shills like Obama.

    History shows that even when the left is very organized, like the German CP in the early 30’s, it can be overwhelmed by rightwing nationalist propaganda, especially amidst recession, particularly when their left politics is like that of the Stalinists, backing people like FDR and making senseless acomodations to the ruling class all down the line.

    The problem is these erstwhile leftists. many of them redbaiters in fear of Stalinists but for all the wrong reasons, seem organically incapable of forseeing that these democrats are corporate creatures in advance. But where’s the mystery? I mean the very first big vote Obama ever made, the thing that first got his obscure ass nationwide coverage in the national news, was to vote for revamping bankruptcy laws on the side of the banks. I think that was back in 2003. It was a hideous vote for monstrous legislation and pegged him as an unpardonable mortal class enemy of the most repugnant ilk.

    Now I’m originally from Chicago, which, counterintuitively turns out to be the most segregated city in the USA, where on the south side there’s like 1.5 million Black proletarians concentrated into about 8 square miserable miles of ghetto, where the police, notorious torturers, some in those exact precincts found guilty of beating captives with telephone books then hooking up & cranking military field telephones to the genitalia of suspects, hold sway like the Gestapo.

    So I’m thinking back then, what kind of Black guy politician from the South side of Chicago would be motivated to vote for legislation that could only further emiserate Black people while enriching notoriously usururious banks, and I concluded: only a creature of the banks could cast such a vote. “Watch out for this wretched snake!” I said.

    Sure enough, 6 years later the miserable little prick gives up 3/4 of a trillion dollars to the worst of the worst, the most incompetent, greedy, hedonistic & parasitic swindlers in the history of the Universe, a black hole from which light can never escape. And now some act as if they’re shocked, or betrayed? What part of the writing on the wall didn’t they get is what I want to know, for crying out loud

    FWIW: To try & comprehend the scale of that bank bailout (aka welfare for the rich) in terms of counting dollar bills in everyday terms, just try & wrap your brain around this apalling factoid: If you took a stopwatch and clicked START right now it would take about 240,000 years to click off 3/4 of a trillion seconds.

    It’s these kinds of numbers & these kinds of crimes that get people like me, & Hereux, & Proyect & a dozen others lurking around here so pissed off to not feel too ashamed using rhetoric about firing squads & revolutionary tribunals. I mean why use golf balls & shredded tires to plug spewing oil leaks on the ocean floor when we by rights should be shoving the bloated corpses of chuckling banksters and stuttering oil industry execs AND THEIR APOLOGISTS into the breech as a stop gap garbage plug?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 16, 2010 @ 4:23 am

  30. Richard Greener would have a point if he extended that logic all the way, to murder, to rape etc etc etc. But libertarians always have a cut off point and hence are never libertarians but apologists!

    Comment by Steve — May 16, 2010 @ 8:00 am

  31. Actually, Karl, I prefer channeling that anger through repeated watchings of favorite horror flicks and reprints of old EC comic books. But yep, some days it’s very satisfying to imagine some moments at the guillotine. My wife often says she took up knitting so that she can have a prime seat with the tricotesses in the front row where she can actually see the heads roll, bumpetty bumpetty bump.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — May 16, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

  32. You’re lucky Mike — that’s my kind of gal!

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 16, 2010 @ 7:25 pm

  33. Speaking of “pruning” the most vulnerable of the working class in order to make record profits and delegate more responsibility to those still employed, those tens of millions of fifty-somethings forced to work shithole jobs like Wal-Mart while the Banks supposedly “Too Big to Fail” got the opposite of “pruning”, that is, the opposite of the “creative destruction” Ms. Rampell tries to convey, I recall a bit of sad, ironic humor during those days when the bailouts were all the headlines seeing a fifty-something homeless guy panhandling just off an Interstate exit ramp and the makeshift cardboard sign he held up read: “Too Small to fail!”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 16, 2010 @ 7:43 pm

  34. Rose… and Steve… Thanks for your concern, but I’ve been a friend of Lou Proyect for nearly fifty years and I feel quite comfortable and welcome here. I’m no libertarian. Where does that come from? Recognizing the realities of working conditions under capitalism doesn’t equate to agreeing or accepting them, but a foolish and empty denial based on an isolated ideology accomplishes nothing useful.

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 17, 2010 @ 6:33 pm

  35. “It is nicer to be younger than older and especially to have a job nobody seems to want to eliminate. But, all jobs are subject to destruction, creative or otherwise. All job security likewise is beyond the capacity of the worker to influence in any real sense. Whatever it may be we do, whatever talents and training we may have, we all waste away in time to either be replaced by another worker, another machine or simply done away with altogether. This is hardly Ms. Rampell’s fault.”

    Would you spew out this bullshit in relation to murder or rape. No I didn’t think so. We are discussing a very definite process here involving real people making real decisions, not some abstract existentialism. (As was Ms. Rampell).

    Comment by Steve — May 17, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

  36. Steve… By “bullshit” do you mean to say it’s not true, or only that you don’t like hearing it? And what does criminal activity have to do with the jeopardy one faces in the workplace? What is your point?

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 18, 2010 @ 2:22 pm

  37. The point is that this is a process, a real person will sack a real worker and you then say ‘Oh well we all live and we all die’. Extend this to rape and murder (where a real person kills or rapes another real person) and I may think you are just insane and not some apologist, but you won’t so an apologist you are.

    Comment by Steve — May 18, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

  38. If you actually believe your “process” reflects even a scintilla of logic you are badly in need of help.

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 18, 2010 @ 11:40 pm

  39. So companies shedding jobs, reducing wages, reducing pensions rights, increasing work intensity etc etc etc is not some process. If it isn’t what is it? Your view is that we should abstract from this process, ignore the fact that real walking talking humans decide how this process works and just think of the life cycle. It is an idiotic idea and one that can never be put into practice because that is not how human beings function.

    Comment by Steve — May 19, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

  40. Working conditions, including pension plans (pensions being hardly “rights” since they result either from mutual negotiation or at the discretion of the company) should be regulated by government in the interests of workers, but “shredding jobs” and/or “reducing wages” – unless covered by contract provisions – are matters to be decided by companies not workers. No one has a right to job in a private company. No government can compel a private firm to exist. There is no “chicken or egg” controversy in capitalism. The job must first be created before there can be a worker to fill it. If your “process” presumes a “right to a job” within the private sector, now that’s idiotic.

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 19, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

  41. Pensions are subject to statutory legislation – at least in Europe (don’t know if this is the case for the USA) so they are rights that have been fought for. To take these hard won rights away is to take away rights – in England people can retire at 65, this proposal is to raise this age limit. Just as taking away universal health care in the UK would be removing the right to free health care.

    Now if I can get my head around the rest of your ‘logic’, firstly who said anything about a ‘right’ to a job in the private sector. This is about working conditions and power relations once that job is created. Governments do and can compel companies to follow employment law. But this law is the result of class dynamics, among other things. Working rights can be established and rights can be taken away. The point is that your argument is that workers should roll over and play dead, that they shouldn’t defend their working conditions because hey we all live and then we all die. Please human beings do not live their lives by that philosophy. You are clearly the worst kind of apologist I have encountered.

    Your latest idea that no government can compel a private firm to exist (not strictly true incidentally) and that no one has a right to a job (again not strictly true – private companies are legally obliged to keep their premises clean for example) seems to be implying a view that not only should private companies be free from government regulations but anyone fighting for their working rights should be prevented. Does this extend to consumers? Should they just shut up and keep quiet if anything goes wrong?

    Comment by Steve — May 19, 2010 @ 6:44 pm

  42. I can’t say how many apologists you’ve encountered, but if I’m the worst, things must be going quite well for you. And, for whom do I apologize? You have misstated and misunderstood almost everything I’ve written. Perhaps, you do this on purpose. In any case, if you don’t actually read my words – and instead make up your own, complete with your invented meaning, attributing them to me – it becomes impossible to have a reasonable discussion with you. You’re entitled to any opinion, but your basic facts are so cockeyed. For example, benefits gained through legislation or via contract negotiation cannot be called “rights” since laws can be changed and contracts do expire. A right is not a right if it can be altered or taken away. Perhaps the concept of political or economic privilege offends you, even when mutually arrived at by all concerned. And in what society does a government have the legal authority to force a private company to stay in business or determine by law the size of its workforce?

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 19, 2010 @ 8:34 pm

  43. “And in what society does a government have the legal authority to force a private company to stay in business or determine by law the size of its workforce?”

    Well, this example is admittedly stretch but I doubt that, say, in 1943 GM could have announced mass layoffs & refused building tanks for Uncle Sam.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 19, 2010 @ 11:58 pm

  44. Karl, I agree with you… but, as you put it so well, the key phrase you employ is “I doubt.” There is no doubt when it comes to rights. That was a major reason why James Baldwin opposed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. The very idea that “other people” could bestow upon him his “rights” was repugnant. If Congress had the power to grant such “rights” it must, by definition, have the same power to alter, modify or totally eliminate them. In a private market economy, sad as it may be, there simply is no “right” to a private sector job. As Louis illuminates, this is as true for the highly paid managers at Goldman-Sachs as it is for the cashiers at Wal-Mart.

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 20, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

  45. “And in what society does a government have the legal authority to force a private company to stay in business or determine by law the size of its workforce?”

    Well who is changing the goalposts now!!!!!!!!!

    You originally said,

    “No government can compel a private firm to exist.”

    Well one example of this is when a government privatises a nationalised industry. What was a public company becomes a private one. Obviously when it is privatised the size of the workforce and the pay and working conditions become the product of class battle. Workers can go on strike if benefits are withdrawn. Governments can also create industries by legisaltion – in the UK New Labour intoruced home information packs and created an industry. That industry, like all others is regulated by employment law.

    “For example, benefits gained through legislation or via contract negotiation cannot be called “rights” since laws can be changed and contracts do expire. A right is not a right if it can be altered or taken away.”

    Rubbish. Rights are established by man and not handed down from on high. They are established by practice and eventually law. In the UK everyone is entitled to free health care on the National Health Service, it is their right. The European human rights act enshrines in law a whole raft of rights. The Geneva convention does the same for war. Kautsky called for a Geneva convention for workers! No doubt rights can be won and taken away but they are still rights. Your argument says there are no rights at all.

    But if we go back to your original statement:

    “It is nicer to be younger than older and especially to have a job nobody seems to want to eliminate. But, all jobs are subject to destruction, creative or otherwise. All job security likewise is beyond the capacity of the worker to influence in any real sense. Whatever it may be we do, whatever talents and training we may have, we all waste away in time to either be replaced by another worker, another machine or simply done away with altogether. This is hardly Ms. Rampell’s fault.”

    If this isn’t a call to defeatism and outright apology for the actions of those that have power against those that don’t then I don’t know what is.

    Comment by Steve — May 20, 2010 @ 5:13 pm

  46. Really Steve… every “right” you cite in Britain exists in a political system you also recognize is governed by law – without even a written constitution – and is literally subject to change with each change in government. If your idea of a “right” is so temporary, it differs from the American concept of “right” to the point where they are completely beyond comparison with each other. Sorry, but your health plan didn’t even exit until the mid-20th century, and it might just as quickly disappear at some time in the future. Rights don’t come and go. Laws do. My goalposts don’t budge. Name a country and a specific company that has been compelled to exist (which is no different from staying in business) by a government.

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 20, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

  47. So in your opinion rights are handed down by god or do not actually exist. The right to be in a trade union is not a right but a point in the history of Law. But how does Law come about – in response to social advances. The right to be in a trade union in a primitive community is indeed ridiculous but in a capitalist system it becomes a fundamental right. Your position, whatever that position is, either has pre defined god given rights – which you need to list or doesn’t see any rights at all, in which case it does not matter if anyone has trade union rights or not. Or any rights at all come to that matter. Which is the ultimate apology for the powerful. Either way I cannot see how anyone on the left could accomodate your views for a second.

    “Name a country and a specific company that has been compelled to exist”

    Great Britain – British Airways. In Europe there are countless examples.

    Comment by Steve — May 21, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

  48. I’m happy to set you straight, Steve. If you recheck my comments you will find NO mention of God anywhere. Not once. But you continue throwing this straw-man, or should I say straw-God, at me. For God’s sake – stop it already! Rights exist as a matter of natural law. They are not manufactured by workers or government, and if you think men can grant them, then men must be able to erase them too. Your ability to exercise your rights may well be thwarted by governments, but that hardly diminishes the right’s existence. There is no economic, political or religious requirement. OK?

    As for your example of British Airways… I feel sorry for you if this is the best you can do. BA is a limited liability private British corporation. If you wish you may buy shares. Anyone can. If you believe the British government controls the company you ought to read the BA Board Indemnity Statement. An upstanding leftist would be appalled, as I expect you will be. As with all European airlines, they MUST be at least 51% EU owned. Read your treaties, Steve. But BA could, both easily and legally, sell its entire company to another EU airline (and its in talks right now with Iberia). If it did, BA would no longer exist and the British government has no say in the matter. The once nationalized British Airlines has been a private company for nearly 23 years. You are so out of date.

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 21, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

  49. “If you believe the British government controls the company you ought to read the BA Board Indemnity Statement.”

    Who said anything about controlling the company? (Then again to some extent governments can and do – isn’t it true that deep sea drilling can only be done to a maximum of so many feet.) The point is that the government created the private company. Which was the point of your original argument: “No government can compel a private firm to exist”. Now you asked for an example and I gave one but in Europe there are many examples. Most utility companies in England are private and most were compelled to exist by the state. (incidentally they can also be fined by the state regulator so again there is some control) The decision to hire and fire and what wage levels are then set are the product of class struggle. The more united the workforce the less likely wages are to be reduced and jobs to be lost so your other statement: “but “shredding jobs” and/or “reducing wages” – unless covered by contract provisions – are matters to be decided by companies not workers” is also incorrect.

    “There is no economic, political or religious requirement. OK?”

    “Rights exist as a matter of natural law.”

    Name them then.

    “and if you think men can grant them, then men must be able to erase them too.”

    erm…Yes that is exactly what I think. Which is why struggle is so important!! In a period of ‘creative destruction’ the working class need to act collectively to defend their rights, such as trade union rights which tend to get attacked in these ‘creatice destructive’ periods. That is as opposed to your suggestion that they reflect on the life cycle and accept their imminent demise!!!

    “Your ability to exercise your rights may well be thwarted by governments, but that hardly diminishes the right’s existence. There is no economic, political or religious requirement. OK?”

    No not OK. Name these natural rights and tell me what other animals species have natural rights?

    Comment by Steve — May 21, 2010 @ 7:15 pm

  50. Sorry Steve… can’t have a rational discussion with you when you give me British Airways as an example and I point out that they are no longer nationalized, but rather a private company currently in discussions with another European airline that might well spell the demise of BA as a company – and you continue to insist that the British government can force a private company to stay in business. BA exists at the pleasure of its shareholders. After you read the EU agreements perhaps you can talk intelligently.

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 21, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

  51. “Name a country and a specific company that has been compelled to exist”

    Most Japanese keiretsu today (eg the Mitsubishi Group of Companies) were created in the Meiji period using capital owned by the state, at state direction, and then shortly after handed over to groups of individuals with close connections to the state. Such corporations were compelled to exist by the Japanese State in a hothouse fashion, and it is doubtful that, even today, the Japanese state would allow the larger of these keiretsu to freely dissolve or disband themselves. I dare say similar considerations also apply to many Jaebol in Korea and to certain strategic corporations in China.

    As for the BA discussion, Steve is right. The British state may not seek to compel BA to exist today, but there is no doubt that it has done so in the past. Even bearing in mind that the power of the British state is not what it used to be, it is easy to imagine scenarios in which the British state may again choose to intervene in the affairs of BA, just as it did intervene in the affairs of the privately chartered Northern Rock Bank recently.

    In addition to the utilities, Steve could have mentioned the example of the arms manufacturer British Aerospace. As I recall, this company was created by the state out of the semi-bankrupt ruins of British aircraft industry in the period 1965-77, by nationalising Vickers, Hawker Siddeley etc. And while British Aerospace is a private company today, due to its strategic value to the British ruling class and state, it does not exist entirely and merely at the pleasure of its shareholders. For instance nobody but a fool would believe that it is within the power of the shareholders of British Aerospace to freely dissolve or disband the company and arbitrarily dispose of the plant and equipment they ostensibly own, without the state once again interfering to protect the wider strategic interests of the British ruling class — against the whims or narrow sectional interests of the shareholders and management of BAE if necessary.

    Similarly, in the US, there are many privately owned corporations (and not just arms companies) which would not be allowed by the US state to simply liquidate the capital they own, or to sell themselves into overseas ownership, due to any whim or fancy, or sectional interest, of their management or shareholders.

    Comment by Lajany Otum — May 22, 2010 @ 10:43 am

  52. Ok Richard I will leave you to your own ‘rationality’, where rights are not the product of human society and development but are natural, which makes me wonder what natural rights Zebra have!

    Comment by Steve — May 22, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

  53. Trotsky had this to say about Natural Law:

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1920/terrcomm/ch03.htm

    If we look back to the historical sequence of world concepts, the theory of natural law will prove to be a paraphrase of Christian spiritualism freed from its crude mysticism. The Gospels proclaimed to the slave that he had just the same soul as the slave-owner, and in this way established the equality of all men before the heavenly tribunal. In reality, the slave remained a slave, and obedience became for him a religious duty. In the teaching of Christianity, the slave found an expression for his own ignorant protest against his degraded condition. Side by side with the protest was also the consolation. Christianity told him:– ”You have an immortal soul, although you resemble a pack-horse.” Here sounded the note of indignation. But the same Christianity said:– ”Although you are like a pack-horse, yet your immortal soul has in store for it an eternal reward.” Here is the voice of consolation. These two notes were found in historical Christianity in different proportions at different periods and amongst different classes. But as a whole, Christianity, like all other religions, became a method of deadening the consciousness of the oppressed masses.

    Natural law, which developed into the theory of democracy, said to the worker: “all men are equal before the law, independently of their origin, their property, and their position; every man has an equal right in determining the fate of the people.” This ideal criterion revolutionized the consciousness of the masses in so far as it was a condemnation of absolutism, aristocratic privileges, and the property qualification. But the longer it went on, the more if sent the consciousness to sleep, legalizing poverty, slavery and degradation: for how could one revolt against slavery when every man has an equal right in determining the fate of the nation?

    Rothschild, who has coined the blood and tears of the world into the gold napoleons of his income, has one vote at the parliamentary elections. The ignorant tiller of the soil who cannot sign his name, sleeps all his life without taking his clothes off, and wanders through society like an underground mole, plays his part, however, as a trustee of the nation’s sovereignty, and is equal to Rothschild in the courts and at the elections. In the real conditions of life, in the economic process, in social relations, in their way of life, people became more and more unequal; dazzling luxury was accumulated at one pole, poverty and hopelessness at the other. But in the sphere of the legal edifice of the State, these glaring contradictions disappeared, and there penetrated thither only unsubstantial legal shadows. The landlord, the laborer, the capitalist, the proletarian, the minister, the bootblack – all are equal as “citizens” and as “legislators.” The mystic equality of Christianity has taken one step down from the heavens in the shape of the “natural,” “legal” equality of democracy. But it has not yet reached earth, where lie the economic foundations of society. For the ignorant day-laborer, who all his life remains a beast of burden in the service of the bourgeoisie, the ideal right to influence the fate of the nations by means of the parliamentary elections remained little more real than the palace which he was promised in the kingdom of heaven.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 22, 2010 @ 4:38 pm

  54. I said not a word about “whim” or “fancy” because I was talking about sound reasons such as mergers, sales or bankruptcy. Nevertheless, a sound group of assumptions, with a few conclusions thrown in, Lajany… but not any examples of specific companies or countries where “private” corporations can be compelled by force of law to stay in business. You might have used the recent TARP legislation here in the US as a closer example. There we had corporate entities ready to fall apart (which is to go out of business) and government put a halt to it. Even with the US bailouts no company was legally forced to take those funds. Of the three major auto makers, Ford refused all bailout money.

    As with Steve, your use of “I doubt” and “easy to imagine” or “might apply” again demonstrates that concrete examples simply don’t exist as a matter of law or national policy – anywhere. You may envision situations but you can’t cite their actual existence. I might even agree with some of your assumptions, but even our agreement doesn’t make them fact, only shared opinions.

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 22, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

  55. “but not any examples of specific companies or countries where “private” corporations can be compelled by force of law to stay in business.”

    British bank Northern Rock were nationalised, taken over by the stae and were compelled to stay in business. That is a very very specific RECENT example. There are many many others. Lajany’s point about the role of the state as a tool of the ruling class seems to have completely escaped you.

    Every assertion you have made flies in the face of the historical facts, which you ignore because they are historical! What kind of rationality is this? A rationality without empiricism?

    Comment by Steve — May 22, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

  56. Steve… we are speaking English here. A “private” company cannot also be a “nationalised” one. It’s one or the other. Try making sense, please.

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 22, 2010 @ 7:55 pm

  57. Richard, a private company is compelled to stay in business through the PROCESS of being nationalised!! The plan is to then put it back into the private sector!!! Hence a direct example of the state controlling the actions of a private company. And when the state puts it back into private ownership that is the state compelling it to exist.

    Comment by Steve — May 23, 2010 @ 8:24 am

  58. By the way I forgot to say how cute Ms Rampell is!

    Comment by Steve — May 24, 2010 @ 5:12 pm

  59. I was hoping R. Greener would elucidate how his theory of Natural Law supercedes that of Trotsky’s?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 24, 2010 @ 5:28 pm

  60. Karl… Unlike Trotsky, I do not believe that any theory of natural law requires the ingredients of Christianity or politics or any modification thereof, modern or ancient. And unlike Steve, I understand there can be logic in any concept that allows for some people to “grant” others anything that might be called “rights.” If given the power to “grant” how do you escape the concurrent power to either “not grant” or even “revoke”?

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 26, 2010 @ 1:31 am

  61. CORRECTION… by typo, I left out the crucial word “no” prior to “logic” in previous post. Sorry for sloppy checking…

    Comment by Richard Greener — May 26, 2010 @ 1:33 am

  62. “I do not believe that any theory of natural law requires the ingredients of Christianity or politics or any modification thereof”

    What does it require then? Human agency? If not human agency then list us the natural rights Zebra have.

    “And unlike Steve, I understand there can be no logic in any concept that allows for some people to “grant” others anything that might be called “rights.””

    That is because for you rights are outside human action, bestowed (in your case) by god knows who! If you see rights as a product of human society then the logic is pretty easy to see. The mystery is gone.

    “If given the power to “grant” how do you escape the concurrent power to either “not grant” or even “revoke”?”

    By struggle, interaction and by human development. Rights are not fixed, they change as society changes. But rights are skewed by class relationships, in a classless society it can be imagined that the contradictions thrown up by the concept of rights will be diminished.

    Comment by Steve — May 26, 2010 @ 5:15 pm


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