(Economic) Selfhood not Serfhood
Jon Chait’s article on Ayn Rand is getting some play here at the League. Will’s response here, Freddie’s here. As usual here at the League I’m in a slantwise position relative to this discussion. With Will I have concerns relative to redistribution of income but with Freddie I agree that tax rates are far too low for the ultra wealthy. For reference, I believe in distribution of responsibility, roles, opportunity, and property (intellectual as well as in some cases physical). Buy in or mutual influence.
I’m currently reading Majorie Kelly’s book The Divine Right of Capital. Her argument (brilliant imo) in a nutshell is that the capitalism is still essentially a feudal enterprise. That economically we have not evolved to a state of actual liberalism. (She calls it economic democracy which I find unhelpful, but what she means is economic freedom/accountability). We live in an era where stockholders are aristocrats and the rest of us serfs. This is why incidentally redistributing their aristocratic wealth is not an avenue for liberation in my mind as it keeps the structural flaw of privilege classes in tact and simply tries to create a monarch (the state) with sufficient power to wrest some control from them in order to give scraps to the peasants (us).
Her book follows point by point this brilliant metaphor: stockholders are considered the corporation (as the corporation is wrongly considered an individual, then only the aristocratic heavy stockholding elite are really individuals/persons), they hold the property in question and can buy and sell at will (corporate takeovers, layoffs, outsourcing, etc.), only they vote, they are the ones considered to be adding value (while the actually productivity of workers increases though their wages stagnate for higher stockholder share prices), and their interests (aristocratic privilege) are the only ones that matter.
Rand as Chait judiciously shows, attempted to make a moral argument on behalf of the aristocrats. That they were somehow oppressed by the majority. When in fact, they, just like aristocrats of old, gain the majority of their wealth from rent collection. Rent collection means feudal. Will might consider that point more in this point #3 (soft?) moral argument against redistribution. The stock market which is a casino and the house always in the end wins (i.e. it’s rigged), which is fine if you want to blow some weekend money but to have a casino centrally driving the corporate self-sense and mission is insanely. [This could I imagine be considered the inverse or perhaps complementary argument to The Road to Serfdom.]
The social safety of the US (and other Western industrialized countries) was built for a nation-state. When governments could in some sense (either through more central control or deals as in US Big Gov’t/Big Labor/Big Business Liberalism) sway markets/corporations. But corporations are now above states. Wee live in market states not nation-states which is why (in my mind) redistributionism–a product of the nation-state 20th century era–fails. There’s nothing safety-net wise to invest monies collected from redistribution into. Where would anyone who is receiving redistributed funds put it if they want to climb the social ladder? Housing? Stocks? Some of that “internet money?”
The problem is the structural formation of the corporation and its deleterious effects on capital (and by extension capitalism). Or at least the way the corporation is currently formatted. Or to put it more metaphysically–to sound a Rushkoffian note–we are the corporation. They are us.
I haven’t yet gotten to the second half of the Kelly’s book where she outlines her vision of an economic democracy but I imagine it will look very similar to notions of the commons. The commons is not redistribution but rather just and proper distribution of diverse power levers (subsidiarity in Catholic Social Teaching). It’s not redistributing money from the wealthy but rather “redistributing” (back) the economic rights and responsibilities stolen by the aristocracy.
As John Milbank I think persuasively argued (classical) liberalism means individual rights, suspicion of neighbor, and a large state. To this I would add monopolistic/aristocratic capitalism. While in US terms, the debate is centered around this supposedly major chasm between liberals (those who emphasize the state) and conservatives/libertarians (those who emphasize the individual rights), both strike me as actually inverse sides of each other. They are modern political theories piggybacked to premodern (feudalistic) capitalism.
Sure at various point one side is stronger, one side weaker in that (non)debate. Right now the corporate side has more influence than the state side as we can see with the watered down Wall St. Regulations and Health Care Bill. But both still presuppose unilateral top down power–the only difference being who is using the power and to what end. To put it very darkly, contemporary liberalism is enslavement with the hope of an enlightened despotic state and contemporary conservatism is enslavement full stop. Economic enslavement. Or if enslavement is too loaded a term, then (as the title suggests) economic serfhood over selfhood.
As a potential counterpoint/critique to my post, see ED here.