Thursday, April 3, 2014

Discussion arising from "To curse machines is to curse the mind"

In April 2014 I posted a link to an article on Facebook. This prompted a response by a friend as follows:

Machines are good because they decrease the amount of human labor necessary to perform certain tasks, sometimes by a factor of 100 or more. However, they do tend to exacerbate the problems already inherent in Capitalism, namely that anyone born without capital is dependent on others for their employment, and thus, their living. It is very difficult to get out of this position since within a Capitalist economy, a person with no capital has no leverage with which to raise themselves up. They must take what is offered or starve. 

The most faulty premise of Capitalism is the idea that a person is paid what they are worth. No, they are paid as little as the employer can get away with paying them. When a person has nothing to fall back on and must eat, that can be precious little. When a worker is paid so little that they can only afford the most basic necessities, then they cannot save, and if they cannot save money, then they will remain in a situation where they must take the low wages they are offered or starve.

Naturally, I could not let such an attack on freedom go unanswered, so I composed the following:

Capitalism does not have inherent problems. The problems come from deviations from capitalism and to the degree of the deviations. This is not to say a free country under capitalism is a utopia since our survival and thriving require us to overcome the thousands of obstacles nature places in our way. 

Under capitalism every individual is responsible for his own life and cannot use force against others. Further, no group, no matter how large or how many votes they can obtain, can initiate force against individuals who have not violated the rights of others. Nature is metaphysically difficult to overcome - that is the challenge of survival we all face. To do it more effectively we think, create, innovate, build and produce, most often in cooperation with others via the division of labour. 

In a state of pure nature, man is a simple beast who fights for his life every minute of every day, killing and dying like other animals. Using his unique faculty of reason, man has learned to re-shape nature to make it more hospitable to his life. The re-shaping of his environment is man's most basic means of survival. A man in a capitalist society has an infinite advantage over one in a pre-capitalist society, since all the wonderful benefits of capitalism are already surrounding him and ready for him to leverage. All he requires is the use of his mind and he will be successful to the degree he applies reason to the challenges he faces. Capitalism abounds with stories of self-made men who started from nothing and reached the top of their field. 

The financial success of a man under capitalism is a pure function of how many of his fellow men are willing to trade values with him, and how much they value his product. It is not the man who produces a product who sets the price and value, it is his customers, who will use their own reasoning to decide what they are willing to pay, whose product offers them the highest value, and who they prefer to buy from. Under capitalism a producer has absolutely no power to compel anyone to buy from him at any price.

It is both logical and moral for an employer to pay the lowest wages the market will bear, since there is no other objective means of determining a price but by the market system. In a free market every consumer weighs all the alternative ways he could spend his money and prioritizes according to his individual preferences. The price system integrates all the preferences of all participants into a price hierarchy that is constantly adapting to men's shifting preferences. Producers who fail to offer buyers what they prefer are quickly run out of business while those who serve customer preferences are more likely to succeed. No one is guaranteed anything except the right to produce as rationally as possible and to spend as he sees fit for his own life.

If a worker is only paid subsistence wages, in a capitalist economy he is still infinitely better off than a subsistence worker in a pre-capitalist economy, where he would likely do physical labour from sunup to sundown yet still starve, suffer from horrible diseases, have little shelter or clothing, be disposed of by any random criminal who has no fear of justice, and die by the age of 25, having never had any of the rights protection enjoyed under capitalism.

The only solution offered by nature for a man who earns a low wage is to improve his value through the application of reason applied to the challenges of production - the same as we all must do. A capitalist society offers this man the very best opportunity to advance his goals since he benefits from the enormous knowledge capitalism has accumulated, benefits from the progress of all those who have come before, and gets to keep the product of his mind and labour. Until the discovery of capitalism, no society in history had accomplished even a fraction of what we have seen in just a couple of hundred years. A man who starts with nothing is not entitled to the product of others, not entitled to force others to pay him more than they wish and not entitled to steal from others (this is three ways of saying the same thing). Freedom and its corollaries are his only rights and capitalism is the system that fully recognizes this.

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