- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Anecdotal observations are my life

Posted by: Stuart Gort ( USA ) on October 06, 1999 at 12:11:24:

In Reply to: Anecdotal observations posted by Stoller on October 03, 1999 at 19:35:45:

:: There are two problems with anecdotal observations in my opinion.
:: One is that they give no indication of overall validity.

But your collectivist theories are comprehensively valid?

:: 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.

Hey Barry. Stop running around and answer the questions I pose to you.
Are you able?

I purchased the means of production in my business with $120,000 paid to me by former employers and four years of unpaid, full time research and development. I worked as a skilled laborer and saved it. Then I risked it on this business.

Does the mere fact that I've fully participated in this economic system that we are all free to participate in as an employer entitle other people (my employees) to my property?

Did I relinquish my right to own my labor when I decided to employ others?


:: 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.

1. You criticized my poetry. I didn't criticize yours when opportunity presented itself. That's petty and personal of you.
2. You called me bourgeois only a few posts after suggesting that armed conflict might be appropriate in order to implement your ideals. That's rather personal and decidedly not petty.
3. My anecdotal example is me. Tough to take personality out of that, eh Barry? I only suggest that intellectual economic theories are going to have zero impact on me when I know exactly what it takes to succeed. The only difference between you and me is that if I choose to market and profit from my proven economic theory, I'll be true to my principles.

:: 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)

Glad you mentioned the study. Too bad you failed to state the criterion
that establishes a baseline for defining middle class in that study. I'm sure that the people who own the miles and miles of clean comfortable housing that one can witness driving when through any major metropolitan city in the U.S. will nevertheless happily be characterized as inconsequentially anecdotal along with me - for the purposes of starting a political revolution. Bear in mind, Barry. They wouldn't even give the creature (Clinton) the boot for fear of screwing up the stock market. I'd say they are pretty comfortable - even if the Luxembourg Income Study says otherwise.

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

Actually, I meant to speak more generally there. Capitalism created a vast middle class for America. Given enough time capitalism will do the same in Russia if the spiritual repression as practiced by the Soviets hasn't eliminated any resistance to the onslaught of the corruption of organized crime there.

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

You probably don't want to hear any anecdotal stories of Swedes from me so I'll be quiet. Suffice it to say that I'll take it from the horses mouth any day if the only other option is to accept unsubstantiated figures from an obviously biased source.

Stu: "Surplus value" in your paradigm is what the market and me decide it is...
Barry: Exactly. The workers don't get to make that decision. When they do, it's revolution time.

How do you propose they enable themselves toward that goal, Barry?

Stu: 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...
Barry: 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.

Your rhetoric is ridiculous. I had a new guy who was supposed to start working for me today and he simply didn't show up. No call. Nothing. Am I to assume he was too weak from hunger to make it in or call me? I assume he found a better gig and hadn't the decency to let me know about it so I could fill his position sooner. I expect you're applauding at the moment but even this fellow had all the access he needs to the means of production. He just needs to work hard, save, and purchase it.

:: 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!*

Is that the moral position you are taking - that I should turn my company over to the employees in a magnanimous gesture of democratic principle? Fine! They will all get one vote for every $10,000 they invest. I get 12 votes for my $120,000 and another 16 votes for the years I spent researching and developing when I could have made money in my former trade instead. Is that fair?

When they have outvoted me, I'll take my original investment home with me and they can have the place. Mark these words. The place won't exist a year from that day and no Skinner behavioral model is going to stop it from crumbling. Ah well, they can always go down the road and get another job.

You know what amazes me, Barry? That people can disparage me for my religious beliefs (not you - not yet) and yet hold fast the pie-in-the-sky premise that man is actually capable of pure self governance - that he can conceive of, implement, and maintain a system whereby the ills that have plagued mankind for his entire history are eliminated. All that in spite of man's entire written history which testifies quite to the contrary.

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

Yeah right, I'll go dig through Marx because you're too bored to proselytize on behalf of your religion.

:: 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.

In truth, familiarity with the markets would help you debate capitalists more convincingly. I mentioned the Vanguard S&P 500 Index Fund. The management fee is approximately .1% per year. That's it! Using a standard calculator one can easily calculate the long term results of investing $40.00 a week at 10.5% annual growth. This is child's play. The only thing in question is whether or not the S&P has averaged 10.5% for long term investors. Don't believe me. Call a broker. ANY broker. Or check the net. Be certain you are evaluating the long term performance of the S&P though. You may stumble across stats from only the last 20 years. If you use those numbers your impressions might be skewed a bit because they would indicate a 17% annual growth rate.

:: 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).

I don't disagree with that at all. I hated school and I hated working for other guys because of the lack of creative input. It's a free country. What stops anyone from doing what I did?

I have a solid understanding of what motivates people with respect to this point but I cannot provide people with challenging and stimulating work when there are propellers that need to be sanded. I hate to say this but work is a four letter word. That might be bitter medicine for someone who idealizes to your degree but I have little compassion for those who can't see how things actually are unless they are certifiable. Sure people want more than their work provides for them but where is this fulfillment written up as an entitlement? Of course, I enjoyed setting up this business and making it grow but the day to day operation of it is grueling work. I haven't escaped that.

:: 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?

Earth. More specifically the U.S.A. 90% of this population don't value the benefits of self employment enough to do put their money and labor at risk in order to get them. Why is that a problem for you if their freedom to pursue happiness is intact?


: * 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.

I was in the process of evaluating various employee programs available to me as a small business but since you made me feel like a feudal lord for considering their well being maybe I'll just give that up for a new moat.

: 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.

:: 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?

The variables you refer to are common knowledge in financial circles. The S&P isn't hiding from us, Barry. Go to the Vanguard site, pick up a Wall Street Journal, or make one phone call. And don't ask what color the sky is either or I'll tell you to look out the window. Now, I sat and calculated this stuff out in five minutes. I say you ought to do it yourself. It may shake you up a bit to see that capitalism can easily provide well for those who apply minimal restraint in their financial self discipline.

Do you advocate that people should not have to apply minimal restraint in their financial self discipline? That's a serious question - not merely a straw man.

Stuart Gort

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