Thursday, June 2, 2011

Individualism: The Freedom of Independence

This is part 2 of a 3-post series dealing with the Marxist concept of Socialism and Individualism.
Part 2: The Freedom of Independence

Human existence is a social phenomenon. The "individualist" ideal of capitalism seeks to privatize the sum of human relations in order to free the human being. Indeed, the many libertarian ideals seek to arrange society in such a way that "nobody steps on anybody else's toes." Property should exist as an extension of the individual. And the individuals, in turn, voluntarily exchange property.3

“The rate of privation between members of society is precisely the antithesis to the rate of independence or individualism.”
The facts, however, paint a different picture. The calculus of human "utility" posits that the disutility of uncomfortable jobs should incur greater pay - the opposite is true. Jobs with less autonomy, greater physical requirement, greater tolls on health and dirtier conditions tend to pay less. The social supply of labor, rather than the individual valuation of labor is the chief determinant of the value paid to workers. It is precisely this irrational construct which determines that an increase in the available productive forces of society, that is an increase in supply of labor, should instead decrease the value and incentive of a worker. What appears as an obvious supply-demand function is in the aggregate an irrational transfer of value to a minority - the capitalist who can pay his or her workers less, and yet has more supply (labor) available, and a larger potential market (laborers as consumers).3, 4

And this liberal voluntaryism has nothing to do with freedom. As history has documented, the narrow control over the means of production consolidate power over market conditions in the hands of a capitalist class. Individuals have every interest to weaken the bargaining power of their partners in any "voluntary exchange," such that members possessing this narrow control over capital can and will adjust pliable conditions to that end. One of the primary avenues used to acquire this leverage is to decrease the cost of labor. In 1932, New York banks took advantage of Federal Reserve policy precisely to this end:

"[Plans outlined at a Federal Reserve open market policy conference read] "organized support for the bond market predicated upon railroad wage cuts.
"Thus a major goal of the program was to revive railroad bond value, of which major New York banks held $200 million, comprising a third of their private bond portfolios in December 1931, and bond prices in general. Private bankers and the federal reserve saw wage cuts as a necessary condition to reviving those values."5
Railroad firms asked labor unions to accept a 10% pay cut, and they obliged, and railroad bonds went up in value as predicted.5, 6

Human need precludes free human activity. However, the state of being in need is valuable for the valorization of capital. From the worker's point of view, the trade of labor for surplus value is nowhere near as lucrative as the trade of labor for shelter, clothing or even food. As propertarians are quick to point out, an individual without basic need has little reason to work harder. It is precisely this notion of the lack of incentive to work under socialism that is widely used to "prove" the inviability of socialism. And yet, it is solely the lack of such coercive conditions surrounding labor which may allow it to be free.

If property is a right and an extension of the human being, then it should be judged just like all of the old social orders. Civil society has the ability to be free if and only if constituents confront each other freely and without leverage. The rate of privation between members of society is precisely the antithesis to the rate of independence or individualism. On the other hand, the dependency upon private wealth is directly proportional to the rate of exploitation, the lack of free individual association, and the rate of human need.

Part 3 in this series will deal with the moral and spiritual basis of socialism.

3Mises, Ludwig von: Human Action.

4Bergson, Abram: The Structure of Soviet Wages: A Study in Socialist Economics. Harvard University. Cambridge, MA. 1944. P.17 Online
5Ferguson, Thomas: Golden Rule: the Investment Theory of Party Competition. Chicago. 1993. P.180-1 Preview Available

6Business & Finance: Too Much Debt. Time. April 25 1938. Online.

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