Article in the New York Times today: Geithner Said to Have Prevailed on the Bailout. And over whom has Geithner prevailed? Dissenting voices in his own administration:

In the end, Mr. Geithner largely prevailed in opposing tougher conditions on financial institutions that were sought by presidential aides, including David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, according to administration and Congressional officials.

Mr. Geithner, who will announce the broad outlines of the plan on Tuesday, successfully fought against more severe limits on executive pay for companies receiving government aid.

He resisted those who wanted to dictate how banks would spend their rescue money. And he prevailed over top administration aides who wanted to replace bank executives and wipe out shareholders at institutions receiving aid.

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism is calling the Geithner plan a fiasco:

In other words, Geithner followed the Paulson script of pushing hard to make the bailout industry friendly, to the extent of compromising the effort to get the plan fleshed out in adequate detail.

Smith is probably right that the plan won’t be much better than the one we got last fall from Paulson, though I think her general pessimism is misplaced. Geithner’s plan prevailed over countervailing opposition from David Axelrod and others within the Obama administration pushing for far more radical control over the banks we’re bailing out. It makes sense that the Obama administration would divide internally over how to deal with this problem and many others. Obama wasn’t elected by the left on a platform of social-democracy. He was elected by a coalition of students, white collar workers, blacks, and disaffected Republicans. The economy is the issue where mainstream American politicians tend to be the most conservative. The fact that the Obama administration is governing from the center and even from the same position as Bush on these issues at the moment shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Nevertheless, due to the severity of the situation we’re facing—the worst economic disaster of a generation, possibly a century—I expect the tone coming out of the White House to change rapidly. If this banking bill doesn’t sufficiently turn things around, it’s going to strengthen voices of opposition within the Obama administration, and we can expect even a drastic push to the left: not just caps on executive pay but also greater control over what institutions can do with bailout money. Geithner could easily be gone in a year.

The problem with Smith’s analysis and the analysis of those who take a “screw the Democrats” line isn’t that their criticisms of the plan are flawed but rather that they don’t take a nuanced-enough attitude toward politics in general. The Obama administration is hardly a homogenous body—to say nothing of the Democratic Party as a whole. The diverse interests present in the administration reflect the diverse class interests that brought Obama to power. While the interests present in the Bush Administration were uniform by comparison—representing a Dukes of Hazard mentality toward the world—one can begin to see the rudiments of actual class struggle playing out in the White House. I say “rudiments”, because there is hardly an open struggle right now between the interests of the people and the interests of the bourgeoisie. But it’s going to be impossible for Obama to continue to govern in the interests of a portion of his constituency which is growing in power while at the same time catering to the received wisdom of the financial markets that got us where we are. People are really fed up not just with the greed but with the seeming arbitrariness of the whole system, they want substantive change, and they’re not going to be able to get it so long as the Obama administration keeps one foot in the policies of the Bush administration. The class conflict we see playing out in the open is going to push him further to the left.


Of course, the same problem plaguing Menger has to be a nuisance to Smith, Ricardo, or anyone who wishes to posit the origin of economic value in labor. That problem, briefly, is that, when looked at from the practical, everyday point of view, the objects we use and buy have qualitatively distinct ends, so they are incommensurate. In appealing to the usefulness of everyday things as the source of their equality, Menger appeals to just that aspect of things that is in principle and hence necessarily unequal. Yet to say that labor is the source of their economic equality just pushes the problem back a step.

According to Smith’s and Ricardo’s labor theories of value, the economic value of the commodity is determined by the labor that goes into it. So the value of a bed comes from the labor of bed-making, and the value of a pair of shoes comes from the shoe-making. But making beds and making shoes have different ends. The end of the first is shoes, the end of the second is beds. Any two actions that aim at different things are really different actions. Therefore, bed-making and shoe-making are different actions. Apart from a mere expenditure of energy, sweat, etc., they have nothing in common in and of themselves. But if they have nothing in common, they can’t be the reason we say x beds = y shoes. So the labor that makes the useful thing can’t be the source of the economic value of the thing any more than its intrinsic usefulness can be.

This is Marx’s critique of the labor theory of value. Marx does not just believe there are problems with Smith’s and Ricardo’s labor theories of value. He doesn’t just think they’re magical or arbitrary. He thinks they’re flat out contradictory—and not in the pretty Hegelian sense. They’re just nonsense. Marx does not believe there is something special or exalted in cobbling or floor-sweeping that transfers a substance called “value” to a thing. All Marx sees in cobbling is the repair of shoes. All he sees in floor-sweeping is a dirty floor becoming clean. Anyone who thinks otherwise either has not read Marx or hasn’t bothered to read him carefully.

So what is Marx’s theory of value? Marx believes value is necessarily connected with labor, so Marx holds a labor theory of value as economists understand the definition of the word. Further, Marx believes there is a necessary connection between value and market price, and so there is a necessary connection between labor and market price. The connection Marx draws between labor, value, and price is, if not foundational, then at least essential to his analysis of the capitalist mode of production. So if what Marx says about the connection between these things is wrong, his theory about capitalism must be wrong, too. There is no Marxism without Marx’s labor theory of value.

Taking the aforementioned problematic of the commensurability of labors as our starting point, we can categorize Marx’s labor theory of value in very broad outline in the following way:

  1. If labor is the matter of exchange-value, then it cannot be labor in the form of “natural” labor, labors as we understand them in the everyday, practical sense as activities directed toward unique ends. The only type of labor that can play that kind of role is a labor that is in some sense metaphysically unique: it has to be homogeneous, uniform, and without quality. This is the requirement any labor theory of value must meet if it is to make sense. Smith’s and Ricardo’s do not meet this requirement.
  2. Marx believes there is such a homogeneous, uniform labor without quality, and pace Smith and Ricardo, he believes this, not natural labor, is the matter of exchange-value. Marx’s name for this type of labor is abstract labor.
  3. At no point do any of us perform abstract labor simpliciter. Each of us has different jobs. Some of us write computer programs, some of us make music, some of us wash dishes. No one has the job of doing abstract labor in and of itself apart from particular natural labors. So if abstract labor really exists—and Marx believes it does—then we must be performing it at the same time that we’re performing natural labor.
  4. No natural labor contains abstract labor in and of itself. Bees building a hive and making honey are not producing exchange-value, so they are not engaged in abstract labor. A chattel slave working his master’s olive orchard in 5th century Athens was not producing exchange-value, so he was not engaged in abstract labor, either. There is no quality of labor in and of itself that is abstract and produces exchange value. There is no material substance of value that olive-picking generates the way a gland produces a tear. So if abstract labor becomes incorporated into natural labor so that exchange-value is produced, it is only because a metaphysical transformation of that labor has taken place so that it is transformed from a qualitative thing distinguished by species into something purely quantitative which is now undistinguished by species.
  5. According to Marx, systematic exchange brings about this metaphysical transformation of labor. Abstract labor and natural labor get tied together by virtue of a specific social interaction between people, viz., the adjustment of prices in a market economy.

That’s the outline. I’ve said nothing about the specific way in which abstract labor is related to concrete labor, i.e., whether abstract labor “belongs” to concrete labor somehow, whether it’s a “property” of it, whether and how natural labor is treated as abstract labor despite the concrete differences, etc. Nor have I said anything about how a social relation can change the metaphysical character of something (we normally think of metaphysics as being independent of society). Nor have I said anything about why this particular social interaction (systematic exchange) has this particular power to transform labor in this particular way. One has to have answers to all of those in order to fully understand Marx’s labor theory of value. All I wanted to do in this post was to show what one has to understand in order to comprehend Marx. It turns out to be very different from what many people believe they have to understand in order to understand Marx. It involves more than thinking that labor is the source of value (in fact, in an important sense, labor is not and cannot be the source of value). And it involves solving a metaphysical, non-economic problem about the essence of labor itself.

I would draw the reader’s attention to one aspect of Marx’s labor theory of value which is not quite at the core of it but which follows from it. If under conditions of systematic exchange, qualitatively distinct natural labors with different ends (production of use-values) are treated as qualitatively undifferentiated with the same end (production of exchange-value), then the metaphysical transformation of labor brought about by conditions of systematic exchange introduces a metaphysical contradiction into labor. Labor aims at two exclusively contradictory ends: the production of use-values and the production of exchange-value. At the core of Marx’s understanding of capitalism is the idea that capitalism is a mode of production that aims first and foremost at the production of profit (a kind of exchange-value). Meeting the concrete needs of humans (to say nothing of their desires and the things that would allow them to flourish) is secondary. This contradicts the bourgeois understanding of capitalism, according to which it is a system that aims at allocating scarce resources. This is an ideological difference, for sure, but it is more importantly a metaphysical difference. Aristotle might have been the first to recognize that exchange-value and use-value are contradictory ends, and that one cannot pursue both in equal measure by means of the same action. And even if one does it to produce a use-value more than he does it to produce an exchange-value (i.e., if a person practices medicine first because he loves medicine and second because he must make a living by doing it), the true and natural aim of the activity (e.g., curing people) will suffer from the presence of the ulterior motive (making money). According to Marx, there are many “contradictions” inherent in capitalism, all of which make it a system perpetually and necessarily prone to multiple kinds of crises. We can see one of these potentials for crises in the outline we have given of Marx’s labor theory of value: capitalism is ostensibly a system for delivering goods to people, and yet it aims at an end which is radically different. Were it not for the fact that capitalism must deliver the goods (i.e., sell them) in order to exist, this wouldn’t be a problem. But if capitalism cannot deliver the goods at all, it cannot make a profit, and so it goes into crisis. The end capitalism pursues, therefore, contradicts the necessary means of fulfilling that end. Capitalism perpetually and necessarily undermines itself. By pursuing exchange-value at the cost of use-value, it contradicts itself. But this necessary contradiction immanent to the capitalist mode of production itself is invisible if one does not start from the appropriate metaphysical perspective on labor and goods.

Sources/Additional Reading
Aristotle, Politics, Ch 1
Marx, Karl, Capital, Ch 1, Sec 1
Meikle, Scott, Aristotle’s Economic Theory, Ch 3 and 9

A labor theory of value is any theory according to which the economic value of a commodity is related to the labor required to produce it. Labor theories of value—like all theories of value—attempt to explain that by virtue of which we can exchange commodities in certain proportions, e.g., x beds = y houses = z dollars, where x, y, and z are numbers, and the “=” means “is worth”. While the specific sense in which labor is meant to explain value varies across different labor theories of value, Marx argues in the first chapter of Capital Volume 1 that the substance of value is what he calls abstract labor, and the measure of value is what he calls socially necessary labor time. Yet there have been many critics of Marx’s labor theory value, amongst them Carl Menger who, in his 1871 work Principles of Economics, writes:

There is no necessary and direct connection between the value of a good and whether, or in what quantities, labor and other goods of higher order were applied to its production. A non-economic good (a quantity of timber in a virgin forest, for example) does not attain value for men if large quantities of labor or other economic goods were applied to its production. Whether a diamond was found accidentally or was obtained from a diamond pit with the employment of a thousand days of labor is completely irrelevant for its value. In general, no one in practical life asks for the history of the origin of a good in estimating its value, but considers solely the services that the good will render him and which he would have to forgo if he did not have it at his command…The quantities of labor or of other means of production applied to its production cannot, therefore, be the determining factor in the value of a good. Comparison of the value of a good with the value of the means of production employed in its production does, of course, show whether and to what extent its production, an act of past human activity, was appropriate or economic. But the quantities of goods employed in the production of a good have neither a necessary nor a directly determining influence on its value.

Yet Menger’s critique in this particular quote fails. Where he does not beg the question against Marx’s labor theory of value, Menger misrepresents the theory he is attempting to refute. But not only that, his own account of value falls short of the requirement any theory of value must meet, namely, to explain that by virtue of which commodities exchange in certain proportions. All this is evident from examining the quote piece by piece.

Menger begins his criticism by flatly denying his opponent’s position:

There is no necessary and direct connection between the value of a good and whether, or in what quantities, labor and other goods of higher order were applied to its production. A non-economic good (a quantity of timber in a virgin forest, for example) does not attain value for men if large quantities of labor or other economic goods were applied to its production.

It may be true that “there is no necessary and direct connection between the value of a good and … labor”, yet this is precisely what a refutation of the labor theory of value must prove. Assuming it from the start begs the question in an obvious way.

Menger clarifies his objection when he claims (again without argument) that the way in which a particular natural object is brought from the earth has no bearing on its economic value:

Whether a diamond was found accidentally or was obtained from a diamond pit with the employment of a thousand days of labor is completely irrelevant for its value.

As is, this statement is correct, though it has no bearing on Marx’s labor theory of value. Marx never argues that the value of a (particular) diamond is determined by the way in which it is found or produced. On the contrary, Marx argues in Section 2 of Chapter 1 of Capital that the value is determined by the socially necessary labor time required to acquire or produce the type of thing under consideration. So it makes no difference to Marx how much particular labor is involved in acquiring this one particular thing, but rather how much labor is required on average, given the average means of production of the entire society, to acquire or produce objects of that type. So indeed, Menger is right to assert that the value of a diamond is indifferent to whether it is found by the side of the road or dug from a pit, but Marx never claimed anything to the contrary anyway, so this is a blatant straw man.

In the remainder of the sentences of this section, Menger goes on to introduce his own positive theory of value which he claims comes from the “services that the good will render”:

In general, no one in practical life asks for the history of the origin of a good in estimating its value, but considers solely the services that the good will render him and which he would have to forgo if he did not have it at his command…The quantities of labor or of other means of production applied to its production cannot, therefore, be the determining factor in the value of a good. Comparison of the value of a good with the value of the means of production employed in its production does, of course, show whether and to what extent its production, an act of past human activity, was appropriate or economic. But the quantities of goods employed in the production of a good have neither a necessary nor a directly determining influence on its value.

The first sentence has an element of truth in it. It is true that in “practical life”—in ordinary, day-to-day experience in which the majority of us use things or go to the store to purchase things that we can use—none of us takes into account the “history of the origin” of the things we use or buy when considering the “services” such “goods” render us. It is worth pausing for a moment to consider the sorts of “goods” we encounter in “practical life”. They are really distinct objects, and they are really distinct objects because they possess really distinct qualities and so serve really distinct ends. A truck is a truck and not a swimming pool because a truck has wheels, a large engine, an exhaust system, etc., and a swimming pool has concrete walls, a diving board, and water in it. Because a truck has a large carrying capacity and a powerful engine, we use it to haul loads, but because a swimming pool can hold water, we swim in it. By virtue of these vastly different qualities, we use trucks and swimming pools to pursue vastly different ends. If two things have the same qualities and serve the same ends, they’re either in fact the same thing or they are two of the same sort of thing, in which case it makes sense to say they are equivalent. But if they have different qualities and serve different ends, it makes no sense to say they are equivalent from the practical point of view, because we do not incorporate them in the same way in the same sorts of practices, nor can we. They have different “values” for our practical activities. Marx called this type of value “use-value”. He meant the value things possess by virtue of having in themselves distinct qualities and ends. Since from the practical point of view, things are really distinct in their beingness by virtue of their qualities and ends, we might say, following Marx, that such things do not just possess use-value but are in fact use-values.

Menger claims labor plays no role in our estimation of use-value, i.e., value when conceived from the point of view of practical life, but this is not entirely accurate. It is true that under ordinary circumstances we do not think of the maker of a car while we’re driving it to the grocery store any more than we consider the maker of a cup when we are enjoying drinking the tea from it. However, if the product is defective or breaks at some point during its use, we do consider the maker of the thing, usually in a negative way. This is because the maker of the thing—whether it be a person, a machine, or a company—is in some sense a cause of the usefulness of the thing. (Aristotle designated this the “efficient” cause of the thing, as distinct from the formal, material, and final causes.) It might sound odd to our modern ears to hear the labor that goes into a thing be called its “cause”, but if we keep in mind that the skill or lack thereof with which a thing is produced has a direct bearing on whether or not the thing is useful and can fulfill its appointed task, and if we keep in mind that, from the practical point of view, the beingness of a thing is directly tied up with its ability to fulfill its ends, then it sounds less strange when we say that the labor is in some sense directly responsible for the intrinsic practical worth of the thing. Perhaps this is what Menger has in mind by “appropriate” when he says, “Comparison of the value of a good with the value of the means of production employed in its production does, of course, show whether and to what extent its production, an act of past human activity, was appropriate or economic.” Either way, we are clearly justified when we claim that, even from the practical point of view, labor often plays a large role in our estimation of the use-value of a thing.

The most serious problem occurs when in the same passage Menger conflates the serviceability of an object in practical life with economic value. You will recall that economic value is that property possessed by qualitatively distinct things by virtue of which we equate them. It is that thing possessed by beds, shoes, and houses by virtue of which we are allowed to say that x beds = y shoes = z houses = some amount of money. Marx claims that that which these things have in common which makes them commensurable is the socially necessary labor time required to produce each of them. Against this theory Menger argues that the service these things render us in practical experience determines their value. Yet we have just seen that the services rendered by really distinct things are themselves really distinct, and that in fact this distinction between the ends they serve constitutes their differences from one another. Were these things to have identical ends and so be commensurable in virtue of them, they would be the same thing or the same sort of thing. But we do not exchange beds for beds, we exchange beds for houses, etc. But beds and houses, insofar as we consider them from the perspective of practical life, have really distinct ends. To claim as Menger does that they’re commensurable in virtue of the ends they serve in practical life is bald contradiction.

This is a metaphysical problem, not an economic problem. The kinds of things Menger wishes to equate cannot be equated, because if they could be equated, they could not be what they are. Economic value is, if nothing else, a quantity. Its ultimate expression is as an amount of money, a price. The price is supposed to measure the quantity of value possessed by really distinct things like beds and houses. There is nothing in principle stopping us from applying the category of quantity across qualitatively different things. We do so whenever we measure the mass of a body. But in those cases we abstract away from the qualitative features of the thing and consider it just in terms of its bare corporeality. The problem with Menger’s assertion that the (qualitative) serviceability is the source of the (quantitative) economic value is that he is not abstracting from the really distinct qualitative features of the things that differentiate them from one another but is instead insisting that these qualities themselves make them commensurable. The thing by virtue of which they are really distinct is the same thing by virtue of which they are really the same. Unlike massive bodies which are commensurable only when we abstract from their differences, economic goods, according to Menger, are commensurable only if we attend to their intrinsic differences. This is a move no philosopher living or dead would condone, and neither should we.

So the sense in which these things are commensurable (if they’re commensurable at all) does not have its cause in the things themselves or their qualities, considered from the “practical” or everyday point of view. And since the being of a thing, considered practically, is inseparable from its end, the usefulness of the thing for this or that cannot determine its value, either. So whatever Menger is trying to say here about the labor theory of value—and I don’t profess to know exactly what he is trying to say—he’s going about it the wrong way by appealing to how we relate to objects in our everyday, practical activities. The use of something can never determine its economic value, because the use is directly tied up with the qualities that belong to the thing, whereas economic value expresses a quantitative relationship between things that leaves out of consideration the qualities or ends of the things that define their usefulness.

Sources/Additional Reading
Marx, Karl, Capital: Volume 1, Chapter 1
Meikle, Scott, Aristotle’s Economy Theory, Chapters 1 and 9

Lukács tells an amusing anecdote in the “Reification” essay about a legendary critic in India who sets about investigating the myth he has heard about the world resting on the back of an elephant. “If this is so,” the thinker proposes, “then we must ask about that which the elephant stands upon!” When he is told that the elephant is balanced with dramatic precariousness on the back of a tortoise, the thinker is satisfied and his inquiry ends. If he is not, of course, he can always continue his search and inquire after that which the tortoise stands upon. He can search for a third miraculous animal.

The point being that the line of inquiry itself is rotten.

Read the rest of this entry »

On the fringe of the green movement, one always hears the following phrases coming from the mainstream with great regularity: “green capitalism”, “sustainable capitalism”, “social entrepreneurs”, “green entrepreneurs”, etc. None of these terms tend to mean anything specific, and no one who uses them is in a great hurry to spell out, for example, how a green entrepreneur is different in any fundamental way from some other kind of entrepreneur, or how capitalism could be driven toward sustainability rather than profit. So you can imagine my pleasure at meeting the author of a book called Sustainable Capitalism: A Matter of Common Sense. Read the rest of this entry »

I initially wrote this as a reply to Jake off my previous post about capital being “diseased”. I’m trying to apply some of the ideas I’ve been picking up from reading Harry Cleaver’s Reading Capital Politically. I’m also trying to put them together with the more philosophical readings of Marx (which Cleaver would probably reject). But I thought the ideas in my reply were important and controversial enough to reproduce them in their own post.

I don’t think the capital social relation is idiotic or stupid exactly. (Though I do think it is counterintuitive and destructive.) It has a rationality to it, and understanding capitalism is equivalent to understanding that rationality. But to my mind there has been no comprehension of the essence of the capital social relation that was more fundamental than that provided by Karl Marx in Volume 1 of Capital. And what Marx shows there is that the rationality of capital is inherently contradictory. This contradiction is more often than not understood as the inevitability of “crisis” in capitalism. It is less often understood as the inevitability of resistance to capitalism by the working class.

Read the rest of this entry »

In capitalist societies, the market is not an opportunity to be taken advantage of, it is an imperative. Its logic structures and impels society, and its fundamental tenets, though conventional, come to appear as expressions of natural laws. But capitalism itself is relatively novel: its genesis is most often traced to 17th century England, from where it has spread, over the past four centuries, to encompass the entire globe. Against the view that capitalism’s spread was inevitable, or even that it is latent in medieval commercial or traditional urban cultures, it can be argued that capitalist development amounts to a historical accident, an unintended consequence of pre-capitalist England’s internal arrangement. The argument that capitalism should not be conflated with commerce or even bourgeois benefits immensely from the juxtaposition of the case of England and the case of France. The nascent capitalist dynamics of English society reveal themselves to be quite different from those of absolutist France, and the archetypal “Bourgeois Revolution,” the French, shows itself to not be operating according to capitalist logic as those of its own absolutist way of doing things.

Read the rest of this entry »

In antiquity, artists were known by name, but were considered little better than skilled laborers — in stark contrast to the public prestige afforded to their works. The same held true in the feudal period, when the value of religious artwork took on a transcendent role as the position of the artist took an proportionally inverse dive. By the time of the early Renaissance, the artists were “equals of the petite bourgeois craftsmen”1, although their growing economic independence from the system feudal courts and guilds, which once regulated and in some sense stabilized artistic production, resulted in extreme poverty for many working in the plastic arts.2

Read the rest of this entry »

The conflation of capitalism with urban markets, trade, and commerce, and capitalists with burghers, we saw, springs from an assumption that capitalist social relations are somehow natural — they are outside of history, not contingent, and, unless there are sufficient restraints, would be the default manner of organizing any society any where. This assumption, besides being an irrational, faith-inflected posit of a natural law that is nowhere and everywhere at once, is glaringly contradicted by the historical record. Our Burghers of Calais were not proto-capitalists; they were were something else entirely. Their particular circumstance and the way they oriented themselves to the world, their fellows, and their profession did not differ from capitalism only in scale, but in quality.

Read the rest of this entry »

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Mr. Burns goes to the doctor to get a physical. Upon running tests on Mr. Burns, the doctor informs him that he is the “sickest man in the United States”, and the only reason he is still alive is because all his diseases exist in precarious equilibrium with one another. You can view the clip here.

Reading about capitalism fills me with the same incredulity at the fact that it continues to exist.

Think about what the capital power relation consists in. One class—the capitalist class—forces the bulk of the population to sell its labor power in order to survive and enjoy any access to the fruits of social wealth. People are forced to work to create social wealth. That social wealth is stolen from them, and then it is sold back to them as though it is the capitalist’s private wealth.

Pitched this way, capitalism is the world’s most elaborate confidence game. The first thing you do is force people to work. That’s nothing new. As a form of social control, forced work has existed in many societies. But no slave or serf is under the illusion that anything he is doing is forced work. The lord comes down from his castle, he takes a portion of what you’ve produced, and he lets you keep some for yourself.

Capital isn’t about half-measures, though. The capitalist takes the whole thing. Unless you’re stealing from the office or warehouse—which people spontaneously do as a primitive form of class struggle—you don’t keep anything you make. Instead you get a wage. You get a paycheck at the end of the week or every two weeks. And then you take that paycheck to the store and you decide what you’re going to spend the money on. For the vast majority of working families in the United States, what you spend the money on is determined in large part on what you can spend the money on. That is determined by the price of commodities, which in large part is determined by mere chance.

It’s sort of crazy when you think about it. The capitalist steals what you make. That’s not crazy, that’s just violent. But then he tells you he’s giving you the privilege of getting back some of what he and the other capitalists have stolen with credits earned through the labor which the capitalist forced you to do in the first place. It’s like winning the right to buy back your stolen goods from the trunk of a car on the side of the street two weeks after your house was robbed. If that happened, you wouldn’t feel privileged to buy your stuff back. You’d be pissed and call the police. But no one polices the capitalists but themselves.

You might wonder why people would ever stand for something so simultaneously unnatural and idiotic. The truth is that they don’t, and they never have. In any social organism where one class pumps surplus out of another class (i.e., steals what they make), the overriding and perennial problem is to maintain control over the class from which the surplus labor is pumped. In a sense, that’s exactly what the history of any class society is about: the changes undergone so that one class can continue to pump surplus out of another class. But the history of all societies is equally the history of resistance to this imposition of work and the various measures the ruling classes take to adjust to that resistance and keep the extraction going. When the extracting class runs out of options to meet these challenges, or when the challenges become so formidable they overwhelm all attempts to contain the contradictions, the pump stops moving surplus from one side to the other, and the history of that social organism is at an end.

Capitalism’s difficulty in this sense is twofold. Not only does it have to keep the condition of forced work in place, but it also has to keep the illusion going that it is somehow doing people a favor by allowing them access to anything less than 100% of the vast social wealth produced by our labor and ingenuity. In some places in the world, so much of the surplus is stolen from the workers and so little is given back that people are starving. Their access to social wealth is almost nonexistent. This is a necessary consequence of having the distribution of the surplus determined by the arbitrary averages of the price form. It is rife with contradiction, and we’ll quickly see the point where the contradiction explodes the system—just as it has done in every other form of slavery known to man.

Young people nowadays who never saw the upheavals of the 60s or 70s think the earth is more likely to be hit by a comet which eradicates all life than that capitalism will end. As if it will take a miracle for enough people to wake up and put a stop to this. In fact the real miracle is that this idiotic, counterintuitive, contradictory system of bald theft and violence continues at all.

It’s the capitalist who is the sickest man in the world, and the slightest breeze coming for him will be a hurricane.