The Most Crying Need

After bread, the most crying need of the people is knowledge.

—Maximilian Robespierre
And what's really ironic is, lack of knowledge can severely imperil the people's ability to get bread. So I noticed a number of things relating to economics people are ignorant about, and thought it would be fun to pick them out for comment.

Thought I'd try a bulleted list. You know, change things up a little.
  • So many on the right, in its various shadings, like to characterize the American left as socialist. But actually, there are very few socialists in American politics. The inaccuracy is what annoys me most, it's just how my mind works.

    It's also kinda a political faux pas for the right-wingers, though, because the correct name for the American Left's economic theory is Fascism.

    And no, I don't mean "Fascist" as in "ill-considered synonym for totalitarian"; I mean "the economic theory of Benito Mussolini". The means of production in private hands, but the government reserving the right to dissolve freely-entered, valid contracts for purely regulatory purposes (rather than having to prove the contract's invalidity), coupled with a legal, governmental status for labor unions: there is a name for that, and it's called Corporativism. It's the economic theory of the Italian Fascisti.

  • If the middle class is shrinking, as some affirm, maybe it's because both the names for it have become insults, through the efforts of the capitalists on one hand and the communists on the other.

    See, the term for urban, usually professional, middle class, is bourgeois. Contrary to what so many of you seem to think, that word doesn't mean rich people, and it's the opposite of ostentatious, individualistic, or "faddish". They barely existed in the Anglophone world, but the comfortable, somewhat stuffy townsmen of 19th century literature would basically be examples of the type.

    On the other hand the word for the rural middle class, is "peasant". Now, technically peasant means "anyone whose wealth is in land and is not the tenant of another, mostly subsisting on agriculture", so there is such a thing as a poor peasant, but the type was unknown in the Anglophone world. English-speaking countries' poor farmers were more likely to be some form of sharecropper or tenant, dispossessed of the land. The only class in the Anglophone world approximating the peasantry of France, Spain, or Italy would be some of the moderately wealthy farmers and ranchers of 19th Century America. French literature of the period is full of the wealthiest peasants trying to land-grab each other; the American analogue would be the range-war.

  • Speaking of class, "proletarian" does not mean working-class or blue collar. It means "a person not in possession of the means of production he makes his living from". Many software engineers are proletarians; most plumbers and many taxi-drivers aren't. If it sounds crazy for me to say a plumber is a bourgeois and a software engineer is a proletarian, my guess is you've somehow bestowed emotional associations onto what ought to be technical terms.

  • It's fascinating to me that people don't notice that Communism is not the antithesis of Capitalism, it is its apotheosis. In Capitalism, the majority is proletarian—that is, dispossessed of the means of production, they labor for the minority that owns it. In Communism, everyone is proletarian—dispossessed of the means of production, they labor for the legal fiction of the state's ownership of the means of production, while actually in the employ of "design bureaus" that function just like corporations.

    Basically, Capitalism, where at least some people enjoy ownership, is the bare minimum of private property. Ideally, everyone would own his own means of production, either because he can work individually (especially because his "capital" is knowledge, as in a profession), or because he owns a share in a factory he himself labors in—everyone his own master. Any "reform" that aims to further reduce the amount of private property, as for instance by state takeovers of the means of production, is simply even worse than capitalism, not an improvement.

    Apparently that's actually hard for people?

  • So it's fascinating, but the phrase "social justice" has been completely hijacked by wackjobs. Its original sense, deriving I believe from Leo XIII's "Rerum Novarum", referred to...paying people decent wages for their work, and striving to have as many people being their own economic masters as possible. Not welfare, not planned economies, not affirmative action: just paying people as much as their labor is actually worth, and eliminating economic dependency as much as possible.

    But apparently it's not widely understood that the proletarian is dependent on the capitalist—in nearly all discussions of labor in capitalist countries is this legal fiction of both parties being equally free to contract or not.

  • The other odd thing is, are people actually so stupid as not to understand the distinction between "income" and "capital"? Obviously if I don't own any capital I have no right to benefit from the capital, unless I'm hired to use the capital to produce a good or service. So it's grotesquely immoral to mandate that I shall receive a share of the wealth produced by capital I don't own—though I have a right to beg charity, and others have a right to give it.

    But what's immoral in saying that as many people as possible ought to own capital—that is, that as many people as possible ought to have means of production they can use to produce wealth? And what's immoral in saying that those who are actually capable of using the means of production have more right to them than those who aren't? Most people have some sympathy for the idea that people who work the land have a right to own it, and nobody thinks it's "socialism" if sharecroppers prefer to be landowners; yet somehow when wealth shifts from land to capital the moral rules completely change.

    I submit that the difference is only sentimental; you've got emotional associations from agrarian movements but simply don't happen to have developed any for industry. There's not actually any difference, though.

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