- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Anecdotal observations

Posted by: Stoller on October 03, 1999 at 19:35:45:

In Reply to: Barry Lovers posted by Stuart Gort on October 01, 1999 at 11:18:19:

There are two problems with anecdotal observations in my opinion.

One is that they give no indication of overall validity. A majority view or a minority view? Imagine that I'm a white person who lives in University City, St. Louis county. In my view, there are no racial difficulties arising from racial discrimination; all the black people I know are comfortably middle class. Fine. Now let us cross Union Boulevard a few miles into the 'inner city.' Here the white proletariat lives a most precarious and uneasy existence with the even poorer black proletariat. Suddenly my anecdotes change---for the worse---especially if I'm now black! Such an example explains why I find an overall piece of information---such as 'only 10% of the American population has access to the means of production,' as reported by Business Week magazine---to be more useful, more accurate than an anecdote. To stand in the eye of the hurricane is to miss the hurricane.

The other problem with anecdotes is that they are often personal. This often turns debates about issues into personal debates. It was you who volunteered the information that you are self-employed with eight employees. Based on that I termed you a petty bourgeois---a proprietor of a small capitalist concern. This term I suspect upset you---and your reasoning. Case in point: you said, 'Gee was right to question your planetary origin.' No... you misread the post. I asked him what planet (class) he was from and he complained that such a question was irrelevant. Then you said: 'Get a job.' Reason has now left the building; it's a personal debate. That's why I don't use anecdotes about myself. They get too emotional.

Concerning your claims:

: How is it that capitalism created such a massive, comfortable middle class with nothing but disgruntled, unmotivated workers?

Do we in fact have a 'massive, comfortable middle class'? According to the Luxembourg Income Study, the U.S. has the second smallest middle class of all the industrialized nations---less than half of the population.(1)

: Your take [regarding Russia's poverty] fails to mention the inevitable vast, satiated middle class.

And who has the smallest middle class amongst all industrialized nations? Russia at 40%.(2)

Countries such as Belgium, Norway, and Sweden boast levels in the 70s.

(Not that any of that takes the global division of labor into account.)

Moving on...

: "Surplus value" in your paradigm is what the market and me decide it is...

Exactly. The workers don't get to make that decision. When they do, it's revolution time.

: When hiring each employee, the employee and I agreed to trade money for labor. Both parties agreed to the contract and each party was free to accept or reject the contract...

Under pain of homelessness and starvation! The 'free contract' would only be valid if the workers surrendering their labor power to capital actually had access to some of the means of production.

: Now that this business has grown though, I do feel an obligation to consider the interests of those people who I employ and have a great desire to manage this business well for the sake of all.

Spoken like a real feudal lord! Put your benevolence to the test and institute democracy at your business; would your employees elect you to run the operation? Or would they want to look at the books first? Health benefits or investment for growth? Perhaps they'd like to forget voting for a boss at all and simply take a vote on that!*

:: Besides, what's really important isn't what people 'make,' but rather what they do.

: No sir! It is exactly opposite. People can do any number of useless things but it is what they make that creates wealth. Digging stuff out of the ground and fashioning it into something useful is what creates wealth. Only that! If someone "makes" money in the stock market it is only because he has given capital to someone else to do that.

I don't want to go over the whole 'socially necessary labor' point with you. Refer to Capital, vol. 1, please.

Now as far as the stock market bit goes, haven't you tactfully omitted finance capital's interest cut? Is that 'making' money---or is it merely a 'tribute' to having money? And where do you think money comes from? Again, familiarity with Capital would help you debate socialists more convincingly.

Returning to my original point, what people do is important. Your workers are only working for you because they need the money. They don't have the passion for your business that you have. I believe people---all people---require more than income increases and standard-of-living adjustments. I believe people, given the choice, also want intelligent, challenging work (at least some of the time).

: Regardless, every American has the same opportunity to work for him or herself as I did. In America, success can come to anyone who doesn't talk himself out of it.

Then why is 90% of America working for somebody else? I hate to fall back on this---but: what planet are you from?

* I mention health care only because, statistically---not anecdotally---speaking, the percentage of workers who receive health care is 67% for businesses with over 1000 employees, only 27% for businesses with 25 employees or less. Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1996, table 684, p. 438 and table 670, p. 430.

1. Luxembourg Income Study, working paper #188, September 1998 or Henwood, 'Booming, Borrowing, and Consuming: The U.S. Economy in 1999,' Monthly Review, 51: 3, July/August 1999, p. 131.
2. Ibid.


: : Number games bore me, Stuart.

: Yeah, Barry, I know. It's because numbers tend to be empirical evidence. If forty bucks a week from a guy making minimum wage turning into four and a half million bores you, I suggest your altruism is false. But these facts are not questionable and a man can be well tended by capitalism if only he will apply and maintain a modicum of financial prudence from his youth through adulthood.

When I say that number games bore me, I don't mean stats, I mean numerical models where variables are generated out of thin air. Let's see some real citations---or would that be too 'intellectual' for you?

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