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I just blocked Alex W. on Gchat.

Posted by on November 6, 2009
What follows is our (long) conversation.
11:53 AM Alex: hello?
11:57 AM me: hey
11:58 AM Alex: are you busy?
me: not really
12:00 PM Alex: I gave up social democracy recently
12:01 PM me: oh?
what system do you presently favor?
and what made you let that go?
12:02 PM Alex: answer to q2 is reading Zizek, Debord and Kropotkin
12:03 PM me: I can def get behind anarcho communism much more than state communism
Alex: how is that not the complete antithesis of anarcho-capitalism?
12:04 PM me: “no government; private property” is more the opposite of “total government; public properry”
12:05 PM I think that anarcho communist communities and anarcho capitalist communitites could peacefully coexist, with a healthy respect for one another’s borders
12:06 PM Alex: the capitalists wouldn’t allow it
me: although it is certainly correct for people like you and I to talk about the merits of public vs private property
Capitalism is not corporatism
it’s not about coercion, it’s about trade
12:07 PM Alex: you can stop things without ever being coercive
12:08 PM eg, the way the American media has villanized communism and restricted political debate
without ever doing anything forceful
me: I won’t accuse the workers of wanting to cross the border and murder the factory owner if you won’t accuse the factory owner of wanting to cross the border and “enslave the workers”
12:09 PM I submit that the american media has villainized captialism
Alex: capitalists do not have a historical record of being kind towards revolutionaries
12:10 PM me: first of all
captialists are not all one group
second of all
revolutionaries are not all one group
12:11 PM if it is the case that there are abundant historical examples of capitalists opposing revolutionaries, and there almost certainly is, I can tell you why
but the answer is predicated on the notion of private property
12:12 PM they recognized that a violent insurrection was likely to devalue their property through nationalization or outright desctruction in many cases
you may see this as moral or correct, but I do not
12:13 PM I trust you have found through your reading that a state is more likely to result in oppression and coercion than equality of opportunity
or justice
I agree with this
Alex: It’s one thing to say something isn’t moral, and another to actually prevent it from happening
me: well, if you believe something to be immoral, do you not have an incentive to stop it?
12:14 PM Alex: It’s one thing to want to stop something, and another to actually stop it
12:15 PM me: please elaborate
Alex: I can say that some corporation should have better overseas labor practices
12:16 PM but I can’t make nike pay them more
me: well, this is a question of power
if you could, you would.
12:17 PM Alex: point is I can’t
me: consider the following statement:
revolutionaries do not have a historical record of being kind towards capitalists
12:18 PM Alex: because they are the main source of oppresion in the world in which revolutionaries spring up
me: interesting
I disagree
Alex: states are an extension of bourgeois interests
12:19 PM me: I think that your notions of class were outdated shortly after they were coined.
Alex: bourgeois/proletarian?
me: yeah
Alex: the latter has gotten much more ambiguous, but the former still holds its meaning
12:20 PM bourgeois interests don’t necessarily mean interests of an individual
12:21 PM the main problem I see with “buying a commune space” is that there likely won’t be sufficient capital to do so.
12:22 PM me: Marx himself did not understand how the capitalism against which he railed would foster an environment in which the most productive would reap the greatest rewards, and that prices for all goods would obey a sharp downward trend over time, making all things accessible to the least in society, especially provided they work hard.
There have been and are a number of communes in america and the world
12:23 PM capital is much easier to come by than you think.
Alex: only proving the ineffectiveness of such communes
it isn’t about establishing a plot of land where 100 hippies can practice subsistence farming
12:25 PM I am almost certain marx understood that, and simply found it irrelevant. I don’t have a source to point to, but I am absolutely positive his predeccesors did
12:27 PM critique of capitalism goes beyond simply poverty
me: tell me more, then
12:28 PM Alex: capitalism defines every aspect of our life
because every aspect of our life is economic
12:29 PM consider a specific point, eating disorders
12:30 PM In a lot of cases, they are a result of a desire to achieve some sort of unachievable image, which has been created by advertising, media, cultural standards, etc
12:31 PM here’s a point out of the zizek book I’m reading:
the poor are more satisfied with life than the middle class
because the poor compare themselves with the middle class, easily attainable, while the middle class compares themselves with the super-rich, difficult to attain
12:32 PM guy debord makes a point about consumerism, let me see if I can find the quote
12:34 PM not the quote I was looking for, but more relevant: “Economic growth has liberated societies from the natural pressures that forced them into an immediate struggle for survival; but they have not yet been liberated from their liberator.”
12:35 PM me: I read that debord quote differently
Alex: “The spectacle is a permanent opium war designed to force people to equate goods with commodities and to equate satisfaction with a survival that expands according to its own laws. Consumable survival must constantly expand because it never ceases to include privation. If augmented survival never comes to a resolution, if there is no point where it might stop expanding, this is because it is itself stuck in the realm of privation. It may gild poverty, but it cannot transcend it. “
me: “capitalism has provided the means for us to improve our lot. let us do away with it”
12:36 PM Alex: capitalism has given us means to survive, but not freedom
me: “the poor are more satisfied with life than the middle class
because the poor compare themselves with the middle class, easily attainable, while the middle class compares themselves with the super-rich, difficult to attain” I do not see a problem with this arrangement.
12:37 PM what is freedom, then?
Alex: not being forced to sell your labor in exchange for goods
me: whence cometh goods if not from labor?
12:38 PM Alex: The point of the poor/middle/rich is that greater wealth does not equate greater satisfaction or greater happines
me: capitalism is the name we have given to the system of private property and trade. it has been coopted by the left in some instances to mean big businesss interests
Alex: so to say that capitalism has increased wealth, and therefore is good, misses the point
12:39 PM me: nearly everyone knows that more wealth does not equate to more happiness, that’s why most people work shorter hours rather than longer
Alex: debord talks about that too
12:40 PM me: I have a point to make about economics sometime
I will wait for your answer first
12:41 PM Alex: to which one?
(12:37:49 PM) Josh Smith: whence cometh goods if not from labor?
from labor, yes
me: no, I want to know what debord says about people choosing how much to work and how hard
12:42 PM Alex: this one takes a while to explain, i’ll try to find some key quotes
me: while you compile that I will make my case for econ
economics is not the study of how to get rich, or how companies can be best run.
12:43 PM it is the study of scarcity and choice.
we face limited resources on this planet
limited food, air and water. limited manpower, limited minerals and lumber
one of the main limits is location
12:44 PM virtually every population center is built around a water source or on a coast because for hundreds of years, overland transportation was so expensive that it couldn’t really compete with aquatic travel
so people shipped everything by “ship”
12:45 PM this scarcity of location is but one example of the need to perform cost-benefit analysis
what do we gain by founding our city in the desert or on the plain far from a river or sea, and what will it cost?
12:46 PM there are all manner of questions of this nature that people are faced with at every turn
scarcity and choice
Alex: long quote, I read everything you wrote so far
This perspective is obviously linked to the continual and rapid increase of leisure time resulting from the level of productive forces our era has attained. It is also linked to the recognition of the fact that a battle of leisure is taking place before our eyes, a battle whose importance in the class struggle has not been sufficiently analyzed. So far, the ruling class has succeeded in using the leisure the revolutionary proletariat wrested from it by developing a vast industrial sector of leisure activities that is an incomparable instrument for stupefying the proletariat with by-products of mystifying ideology and bourgeois tastes. The abundance of televised imbecilities is probably one of the reasons for the American working class’s inability to develop any political consciousness. By obtaining through collective pressure a slight rise in the price of its labor above the minimum necessary for the production of that labor, the proletariat not only extends its power of struggle, it also extends the terrain of the struggle. New forms of this struggle then arise alongside directly economic and political conflicts. It can be said that up till now revolutionary propaganda has been constantly overcome within these new forms of struggle in all the countries where advanced industrial development has introduced them.
12:47 PM me: I get the point, though by a heavy hand
12:48 PM the question who’s answer is taken for granted by the author is “what would the masses stand to gain be armed revolution?”
he assumes the answer is something like “freedom” or “awakening”
I say the answer is “a new set of chains”
12:49 PM back to my discourse
every day, individuals living in any form of society face a question: “how shall I spend my time”
12:50 PM it is hoped that they will spend their time doing what makes them most happy, or leads them closer to personal fulfillment.
unfortunately, this comes at a cost.
after all, each person has many wants and needs
food, clothing and shelter are merely the beginning, but it is obvious that these alone require much work to obtain
12:51 PM “how shall these things be produced and distributed?” is a legitimate question worth asking.
12:52 PM economists recognize an important tenet which is almost certainly tautological, but nevertheless needs careful consideration for it’s policy implications are vast and penetrating
People respond to incentives.
12:53 PM when something is free, people over-consume or over-use it. When something is expensive, people forego consumption or economize their use.
12:54 PM Alex: only in a capitalist society
me: what?
12:55 PM Alex: in a capitalist society, you have interest only in yourself. That is what is economically rational
when something is free, people will only over-consume or overuse it if they are acting in their own material self-interest
12:56 PM In a more collectivist society, people consider the implications that their actions have on others.
12:57 PM me: what incentivizes people to do so?
Alex: empathy
12:58 PM me: are you suggesting that living in a communist society will cause people to exhibit more empathy?
Alex: yes
me: there is another problem
12:59 PM the problem of what to produce and how much, and using which resources.
1:00 PM this problem has never seen a better solution than the system of prices to allocate resources. Mises and Hayek criticized the communists in the early twentieth century as having no satisfactory answer to the Economic Calculation Problem
1:01 PM since then not only has no satisfactory answer been found, but every communist group that was not religious in nature and thus viewed poverty as virtuous, has suffered from dramatic shortages of basic necessities and other goods
1:02 PM Alex: I wasn’t aware there have been wide-scale communist groups that existed for an extended period of time
1:03 PM me: soviets? chinese?
Alex: they were state capitalist
means of production were moved from private individuals to the state
1:06 PM me: my mistake
1:07 PM lack of historical datapoints in no way detracts from the problem that firms and individuals will have no incentive to economize even slightly or switch to substitutes in the absence of prices. This goes beyond mere empathy
1:08 PM Alex: people like doing things well. If there’s a more efficient way to do something, they will find it

10 minutes
1:19 PM me: some people like doing new things
other people like sticking with what they know
1:20 PM Alex: In what way?
1:21 PM me: ever wonder why hospitals don’t have more elaborate technology in terms of records? they still do most things on paper. because doctors are used to it and it works
it’s less efficient, but they don’t want to change
1:22 PM there are countless examples of similar things throughout the history of industry
Alex: and capitalist society forces them to be more effiicient?
me: in fact, the chief job of capitalists is to risk their personal wealth trying new methods
1:23 PM if they succeed, they gain market share and the old way of doing things type businesses either adapt or go out of business
most workers are not inclined to change production methods
Alex: One of the reasons people are conservative is because they cannot make risks
conservative in their methods
1:24 PM me: they can, but they don’t want to face the consequences of loss
1:25 PM Alex: right, because the consequences are larger than they need to be
me: for every successful innovator in the history of business, there are at least 2 and probably more like 10 guys you won’t hear about because they lost their shirt
that’s a value judgment
need is relative
different people rank different things differently
1:26 PM I would rather sleep outside than drink milk, but this is a meaningless preference
some people would rather risk homelessness at a chance to live comfortable
1:27 PM or above that
Alex: the consequence of going out of business in a capitalist society is your liveliness
me: right
Alex: in a communist society, the consequence is simply the fact that we’ve lost a business
or, that the new method of doing things turned out to be less efficient
1:28 PM what risks are we talking about?
me: realize that businesses exist to produce wealth
losing one may have bigger consequences than you think, especially when the incentives to start a new one are not closely tied to the costs and benefits the business entails
1:30 PM Alex: what kind of risks?

8 minutes
1:38 PM me: when you inquire after risks are you wondering “what is lost if the risked venture fails” “what is gained if it succeeds” or “what sorts of ventures are risks taken on”?
1:39 PM Alex: what causes a venture to fail?
1:40 PM me: expenditures exceed revenues?
1:43 PM Alex: 1 sec, watching the daily show

8 minutes
1:51 PM Alex: expenditures and revenues would not exist in a communist society
1:52 PM me: scarcity and preference would
1:53 PM expenditures and revenue are a reflection of supply and demand
Alex: I don’t really see what kind of risks you’re talking about
can you give a specific example?
1:55 PM me: clipper ships
steam engines
building any particular road or bridge
opening another pants factory
1:56 PM every business decision that exists is balancing risk vs reward
Alex: there would be no risk to individuals
only risks to communities, which would be very small
1:57 PM people would look to improve methods whenever possible
me: why?
Alex: empathy
me: and why should the community, which stands to lose the most, listen?
that is not an answer
1:58 PM Alex: all decisions would be a collective action.
1:59 PM why do people volunteer for, say, habitat for humanity?
me: because they don’t realize they would be more productively employed elsewhere in the economy?
2:00 PM Alex: Are you saying altruism doesn’t play any role?
me: it does
that is why they do it
that and a lack of understanding of economics
Alex: er?
2:01 PM me: well
prices allocate things
in the absence of a superior system of allocation, prices are our most efficient means of allocation
2:02 PM profits are the chief price signal for allocation
this is why non-profits are inherently inefficient
2:04 PM Alex: do you agree that it is degrading to put a monetary value on work?
me: no I don’t
do you think it is?
2:05 PM Alex: yes
consider a band that “sells out”
me: go on
Alex: they create music not to be artistic, but to be most popular
2:06 PM me: what’s wrong with that?
I don’t want to make music other people won’t like either
I also don’t make very much music
is it degrading to put a monetary value on potatoes?
Alex: let me try and explain this
2:07 PM me: let me instead
money is not a chain, it is a useful yardstick
it gives us a measure of things
2:08 PM if a farmer works all year and sells his produce for a certain amount of money, and the next year it sells for more, he can get more things
Alex: I understand that
me: if he instead traded his produce directly for things, he would not necessarily know that he had produced more total value, as it would be difficult to compare the things he got in each year side-by-side
2:09 PM Alex: the barter system is also degrading
me: when we see that he worked all year and created some number of pounds of potatoes and corn and meat, approximately ex nihilo, this tells us the value of his labor
2:10 PM if he had instead produced a concerto, we could say that society gave up that much food to gain a concerto
life on earth is defined by such tradeoffs
Alex: i understand that
me: economists call it opportunity cost
2:11 PM the advantage to putting prices on things is that people show their preferences by buying and selling
thus if people pay him to hear the concerto, then we can compare the value of the concerto to the value of the food and see if society is better served by him farming or him composing
2:12 PM Alex: ok
I’ll start with something more basic
you agree there are things of value that people do they shouldn’t be paid for, correct?
2:13 PM me: I doubt it
give me an example
Alex: being a nice person
complimenting someone
giving someone a present, doing someone a favor
2:14 PM me: yes, but I can’t penalize someone for not acting that way
Alex: you would if you could?
2:15 PM me: no
Alex: why not?
me: most people act nice because they want other people to do the same
that’s not how resource allocation works
Alex: that is absolutely not why people act nice
2:16 PM me: enlighten me
because of christ or buddha or mohammed?
Alex: no
because they are born with empathy and altruism
me: yeah
Alex: both are legitimate emotions which influence their actions
me: most 2-year olds exhibit plenty of both
2:17 PM “born with”
you think that?
Alex: yes, they are born with the capacity to be empathetic
2:18 PM me: they are also born with the capacity to voluntarily enslave themselves to serving as a whip-driven laborer
most people won’t do that
capacity and tendency are two VERY different things
2:19 PM Alex: the former is intrinsic, the latter is a result of society and environment
me: agreed
there is a problem here
2:20 PM I can agree that society may be structured in such a way, not by design, but naturally, to praise self-sacrifice and virtue. THIS WILL NOT BEGET ECONOMIC EFFICIENCY
economic efficiency is about being stingy.
so that you do not WASTE precious resources
2:21 PM Alex: it isn’t even about self-sacrifice
2:22 PM it’s about altruism. People all have an interest in an economically efficient society, thus they will seek to create it
me: but without prices, they won’t know how to do it
this is an information problem
and you don’t seem to understand that
2:23 PM Alex: there are ways to determine demand without prices
me: yes, and they are less precise
same with supply
2:24 PM Alex: I could notice that my store is out of bananas, and inform the supplier
also, wants are determined by opportunity
some people may just be happy with whatever is available
me: very true
2:25 PM I refuse to hinge my belief on what is proper on whether people can be happy living at 14th century subsistence
Alex: prices are not precise either
me: true
they are merely the best tool we have
2:26 PM studying a little price theory may help you to understand this
Alex: price theory necessitates capitalism
which makes them horrible measures
in theory, price theory is great, but that ignores the other aspects of capitalism which influence an individual’s perception of value
2:27 PM conspicuous consumption, for example
2:28 PM me: conspicuous consumption is a narrow region of the total market
hardly a damning encapsulation of captialism
Alex: the fact that advertisement influences desires
as well as comparison to others
2:29 PM me: I submit that you underestimate the net depressionary effect on standard of living of abandoning a price system
moreover, if you want a better life in a capitalist society, you have but to work harder. If you want the same in a communist society, it is not to be had at any price
2:30 PM Alex: I submit that you underestimate how much more efficient communism would be than capitalism
me: wow
Alex: consider all the jobs which exist simply to enforce capitalism
grocery store clerks
2:31 PM security guards
me: how would one enforce murder in ancom?
2:32 PM Alex: and how many jobs involve middlemen trying to decrease price, while not actually creating wealth.
and how many jobs could simply be performed by small collective ation, cleaning for example
me: i submit that under communism people would work a LOT less, and would by and large produce what they like or what they think others would like, not what people want to buy.
2:33 PM small collective action is not as efficient as specialization
Alex: first off, motivation to commit murder would be significantly reduced
me: doctors should not be sweeping.
2:34 PM Alex: I’m not suggesting they do
I am suggesting people keep their floors cleaner in the first place
me: for the record, you have said that in a communist system, people will be less likely to commit murder
Alex: yes
me: ok

after this I blocked him.

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