Marx and Engels advocate the abolition of private property. What are the justifications? Why this advocacy was considered so revolutionary?

What is an object? It’s a thing, right? Just a thing…basically only valuable in terms of its utility or commodification. Its function or someone’s desire for it determines its purpose and worth. But is that what a human being is? Just a thing…? A thing that it only valuable because of its utility or someone’s desire for it, and without any other essence or purpose? Is our only function to…ultimately…be objectified by others? To be used? Meditate on this for a bit. “Private property” is, in its most essential characteristic, the “thingification” of the world; that is, the forceful categorization and boundarizing of everything as “stuff.” That is, as objects that are used, and only valuable because of their utility and desirability, and not because they have any intrinsic value or purpose that transcends material exchanges or the capricious whims of humans. Ownership is enslavement to the will of the owner. This is a pretty profound observation, don’t you think? And yet it escapes most people that everything they do — and everything they are — in a capitalist system distances them from their own intrinsic, non-material value, and turns them into an object…a slave. Thus private property, as the primary building block of a capitalist system, ultimately results in the commodification of the human spirit…and in a society that is mired in cultural poverty and alienation.

This is what Marx is getting at with his theory of alienation and “self-estrangement.” And IMO it is incredibly important to understand this component of Marx’s thinking, because everything else in his philosophy flows out from this central observation. Thus the capture and imprisonment of all natural things into a state of “private property” destroys their inherent value — strips them of their essence — and replaces that inherent value with commodification. In the same way, the “commodified” human being relinquishes their will, their choice, their imagination, their self-determination, their creativity, their social relations and fundamental purpose…purely in order to serve the will of profit. To be a slave. To be a thing. When understood in this way, it is no surprise at all that Marx was so opposed to private property. As comprehensive definitions of “evil” in humanistic terms, private property’s annihilation of our humanity presents a fairly compelling case. It does require some thoughtful effort to awaken to this perspective…but once we wake up, it’s pretty hard not to see why Marx was so passionate about moving beyond the capitalist status quo as quickly as possible, and to return all “property” to the commons.

For my own take on the problems with private property, please consider reading this essay: IntegralLiberty.pdf

My 2 cents.

Is Marx’s theory of surplus value still relevant?

Yes Marx’s concept of surplus value is still relevant. But it really, really bothers neoliberal propagandists, Austrian School pundits, and other market fundamentalists that anyone is still brazen enough to use the term. These pro-capitalist folks will rail against its usage and belittle anyone who believes that this or any other ideas from Marx are still relevant. But don’t let them distract you. I think you are on the right track if you are trying to understand Marx’s insights through a modern lens. Probably the best modern example that conforms to Marx’s concerns about “surplus value” is the power that wealthy shareholders who purchase a lot of shares have over how a company does business, and the benefits that they reap from that involvement. Such a person might own a large amount of stock in a company and, even though that stock is a very tiny fraction of their own personal portfolio, they might wish to exert enormous influence as, say, an activist investor. They are, essentially, trying to maximize their personal profits — and this always comes at the expense of workers and consumers. A recent example is what happened at Qualcomm, which now has to execute a huge employee layoff to satisfy investors after the failed Broadcom takeover bid (again, to increase profits). These investors are not adding any value to an enterprise, they are just trying extract value from it. This is the concept that Marx was trying to “prove” with his surplus value calculations in Capital III — and, if you bypass the math, and instead examine the spirit of what Marx was trying to say about exploitation and the profit motive, you’ll begin to grasp the scope and intent of his insights.

A similar concept, and one well worth researching, is “rent-seeking,” where someone manipulates an environment to increase personal or corporate profits (such as lobbying or regulatory capture, for example), again without adding any real value to the equation.

Now it is easy to pick apart Marx’s arguments in Capital, and to say that certain details of his calculations are no longer relevant. But this entirely misses the narrative that Marx was trying to construct about the nature, methods and consequences of capitalism. And that narrative is very much still true today.

My 2 cents.

What is the relationship between utility and value?

Hi Carl — thanks for the question. I suspect our fundamental attitudes about valuation are not that far apart, as we have both come to similar conclusions about that which is “life sustaining” having authentic “value.” I attempt to address this in my consideration of “holistic value,” but that formula also includes human-perceived-utitilty as part of the calculus. Anything that contradicts or undermines holistic value (but nevertheless commands high exchange value) is categorized as having “perverse utility.” There is a brief overview of the concept here: L7 Holistic Value, and here is how I summarize and expand on it a bit in my essay “Reframing Profit”:

“In Level 7, for-profit and non-profit designations can be addressed to some degree via the collectively designated holistic value for a given product or service, as this valuation process will inherently expand or contract potential profitability. How do we arrive at holistic value? In brief we can apply the following formula, which expands slightly upon previous conceptions described in Political Economy and the Unitive Principle:


As part of this process, we can even target the "fulcrum's plane" of ideal nourishment to refine holistic value with objective metrics – metrics which can then be made available to all via the Public Information Clearinghouse.”


Now this essay (as well as what I cover in the Unitive Principle book) is really discussing a transitional state of affairs. It is a compromise that attempts to reconcile human machinations and culture with Nature’s underlying order (as embodied in Integral Lifework’s “multidimensional nourishment” and the unitive principle itself). To appreciate what I’m aiming for here, I recommend reading the entire overview of L7 Property Position. I believe you will intuit what I’m headed with these ideas…

Looking forward to your thoughts Carl.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Carl Leitz: "Brilliant and deep insights here - it's discouraging to realize how much more we need to know just to be able to scratch the surface of what there is to know."


The challenge, I think, is that we are still in the relative dark ages with respect to developing an ethical and egalitarian political economy. Not just in conception, but in the groundwork necessary for implementation. So a lot of fundamentals have to be revisited — and in some cases reinvented. And we can’t always rely on all of the tools or concepts (or language) already in use, because they are…well…essentially toxic. But they are also complex, and well-established. So it’s a bit like saying to the modern economist: “Hey, so we need to stop using leeches. Yes, I know we have been using them for a while, but they don’t really work….” And the reaction is often, I would suppose, not unlike how the “doctors” of the middle ages would have reacted: incredulity and reflexive rejection of the truth. (sigh) So we have a long way to go….

What's the speech that converted you to socialism?

What an interesting assumption! I think I’ve always been a socialist at heart, so various socialist proposals have resonated with my native sensibilities whenever I encountered them. So at first I didn’t really think any particular speech had ‘lured me into the fold’ as it were. But as I thought back, I then remembered listening to Ronald Reagan once, when I was about fourteen and living in West Germany, and realizing even at that age what an incredible idiot he was, and this, in turn, sparked me into deeper thinking about much of what Reagan seemed to be trying to do with his policies and rhetoric. At that time, I also recalled that a representative from an Oil and Gas company who had given a lecture at a local High School near me (this was back in the States, before I left for Germany) sounded strangely similar in both tone and nonsensical language. There was a similar easygoing, deceptive slipperiness in them both. And so something “clicked” for me at the time — something came together about being lied to by public figures who were trying to get people to support a given outcome. And what was that outcome? What were these liars and cajoling buffoons trying to persuade people to do…? It was answering that question, I think, that somehow watered the seeds of socialism deep within, and recalled to my mind the songs of Pete Seeger that I had listened to as a youngster, and indeed learned to sing myself. Songs like John Henry, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, If I Had a Hammer, This Land is Your Land, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and many others; songs that instilled a sense of pride and rightness around a love of justice, a shared sense of place and purpose with folks from all walks of life, and a mistrust of rigid rules, institutions and authoritative systems.

What began to emerge was a realization that those who craved power and wealth — and deceived others into supporting their efforts — were the same folks who liked to impose rigid rules and perpetuate authoritative and destructive systems that benefitted themselves. And these folks were, by self-identification, nearly always devoted capitalists and corporatists. And I think that, within this ripening context, when I was introduced to the New Testament, I found it particularly striking that Jesus and his followers so pointedly amplified freedom, generosity, justice and kindness for the common and oppressed person, while ridiculing and reviling those wealthy, authoritative power-brokers of their time who were perpetrating most of the oppression. It was all coming together nicely, you see? And so, many years later, what was probably a timely anointing of this gestation process was encountering the work of Noam Chomsky, whose clear and unapologetic voice indicted the very same oppressive systems and institutions, while lauding the benefits of socialistic and anti-capitalist sentiments and practices — in his case leaning towards left-anarchism. Taken altogether, it was quite a tapestry of influences that all ultimately converged on libertarian socialism. But, really…when it comes right down to it…it was that one absurd speech from Ronald Reagan that nudged me most forcefully away from everything crony capitalism has come to represent, and indeed what it still perpetuates in our modern political economy.

My 2 cents.

Why do politicians and intellectuals not look beyond democracy? Has the intellectual capacity of man gone down, or democracy really is the end of history?

Politicians? I wasn’t aware they cared about democracy at all. They certainly don’t in my country (U.S.A.). Thanks to the dogged efforts of neoliberal owner-shareholders, U.S. democracy has become little more than crony, clientist state capitalism. “Representative” democracy mainly represents a relatively small number of wealthy owner-shareholders, not the broader electorate who has been hoodwinked into voting against their own interests.

As for intellectuals, I think the promotion of direct democracy and consensus democracy are often discussed in a future-looking way by academics because these approaches hold a lot of promise, and have been fairly successful wherever they’ve been tried.

Yes, I do believe intellectual capacity is decreasing in the developed world, even as it increases in developing countries. However, it doesn’t require a brilliant intellect to envision or practice new forms of direct or consensus democracy. It just requires a bit of education, a level moral maturity that recognizes the importance of civic responsibility and participation, and an attenuation of “I/Me/Mine” economic materialism.

My 2 cents.

Why does the original position of Rawls assume people will be conservative about taking risks?

Is this a college essay question? I hope not.

Rawls’ maximin preference has nothing to do with risk aversion. This is a misreading of the context for his original position. He simply emphasizes that a system that minimizes negative outcomes and opportunity costs in fundamental ways will maximize potential benefits across all of society — including the ability to take future risks. And because decisions from the original position inherently aim to decide pervasive systemic foundations for everyone in society, hogtying the proposed universality of justice and fairness for the sake of some minimal, targeted perceived utility is…well…it’s just shortsighted. Even if that perceived utility appears to be a form of freedom, the cost is simply too great (again, within the pervasive and perpetual context that Rawls has defined for this exercise) to sacrifice what I would call the foundations of freedom itself — i.e. what Rawl’s discusses as the social minimums of liberty, opportunity, education, etc. for everyone — in order to facilitate some much more narrowly defined goal. In this respect, arguments against Rawls do tend to be a bit myopic and blinkered. Remember that Rawls’ veil of ignorance demands such systemic conditions be optimally defined without any knowledge of one’s position, resources and opportunities. Thus maximin becomes a sensible starting point for that discussion.

My 2 cents.

In an anarcho-capitalist society, would coercion exist? Why (not)?

Absolutely. AnCap likes to frame “coercion” as a feature of the State, but ignores how it also manifests in free enterprise. Capitalists regularly coerce consumers and workers — regardless of whether the State aids or legitimizes these actions. This is true even for small business…not just monopolies. But monopolies — which can occur (and have occurred) naturally, and without mechanisms of the State — often amplify the scope and intensity of that coercion. Capitalism, by its very nature, encourages coercive practices — the company store, truck systems, share cropping, wage slavery, debt slavery, deliberately addictive products and services, brutally non-competitive practices, deceptive manipulation of consumers through fear and threats, etc. have always surfaced spontaneously in capitalist systems — and thus there is really nothing inherently “free” about a free market. Most market fundamentalists, including anarcho-capitalists, will rail against these characterizations of inherent coercion…but I’ve yet to encounter a valid counterargument that wasn’t steeped in neoliberal hoodwinking, irrational knee-jerk bias, ideological groupthink, and unsubstantiated beliefs about “unicorn” economics. Folks will just want to believe what they want to believe, and when you get a large enough group of them agreeing on what are often bizarre cognitive distortions, no amount of reasoning “from the outside” can free them from their delusions. It’s a sad state of affairs for the human species, and if we can’t break free of these immature, tribalistic mindsets, it does not bode well for our humanity’s future….

My 2 cents.

Where is Marx's ‘capital’ error?

So I think there are a number of different things to consider here, and that they often get conflated into a single, overarching criticism of Marx. They include:

1. The issue of Marx’s LTV itself, and of what constitutes surplus value.

2. The issue of Marx’s definition of (and solution to ) “the transformation problem” of how commodity LTV-based values convert into exchange values.

3. The conclusions that Marx draws, in part from these first two issues, about the inevitability of workers rebelling against the capitalist system, and the form that will take.

Now IMO there is a lot of incoherent blathering focused around these subjects — particularly from the Austrian School folks. It is easy to become mightily distracted by the irrational, ideologically fervent dog-barking of the Austrian School and other free-market fundamentalists (Randian objectivists, neoliberals, right-libertarians, etc.), so I would advise against any engagement with those folks around this topic; their reasoning is simply too clouded with bias and incomplete information. There are also plenty of Marxists who have sought to refine, clarify or resolve some of the perceived problems with the above issues as well. Here again, there is fervent ideological bias (including an inability to admit that Marx made any kind of mistake) that can occlude some of the simpler approaches to understanding and resolving Marx’s “errors.” However, in this case, much of the thinking is still considerably more coherent than the Austrian School perspectives. Lastly, there are other, non-ideologically-based discussions of Marx that are probably worth exploring…especially if you enjoy diving into some fairly intricate math.

Okay…with all of this said, I’ll offer what I believe is a contrasting approach that attempts to “cut through the noise:” in this case just ignoring Marx’s mathematical models, ignoring the ideology that motivates his critics, and ignoring attempts to “post-rationalize” Marx’s claims by other Marxists. Instead, we can just look at the actual course of capitalism over time, then compare its practices, problems and trajectories to what Marx predicted (in terms of intermediate consequences). That is…examine the evolution of markets, monopolies, global trade, the impact of automation, the continued antagonisms of poor working conditions and low wages, the societal impact of consumerism and commodification, and so on, through a Marxian lens. And if we do so…when we examine the fundamental spirit of Marx’s critiques of capitalism…what do we find?

We find that Marx was absolutely correct in both his observation of how fundamental problems of capitalism manifest in political economy, and his anticipation of future negative evolutions that have resulted from capitalism. Is the math he used to justify his conclusions sound? IMO the math often falls short. Are his conclusions sound? IMO absolutely yes, on the whole, they are quite sound. So the challenge is really avoiding getting lost in the weeds of particular arguments or mathematical proofs — a focus which is often what both Marx’s loudest critics and most passionate proponents prefer to focus upon. But if we can resist that impulse…if we can observe the massive forest that Marx paints for us in very broad brush strokes, instead of obsessing over the pattern of bark on a particular tree…there are some very valuable insights and lessons we can learn from good old Karl.

Now…about point #3, Marx’s “inevitable conclusions.” This is where I personally disagree with Marx the most. I don’t think violent revolution is necessary — and I feel it was a fatal mistake for Marx to predict (and thus promote) this flavor of expropriation, as it led to some of the darkest — and unnecessary, IMO — moments in socialism’s history. There are other reasons why I believe this was and is a general error in thinking about change, which I discuss here: Revolutionary Integrity. However, once again this shouldn’t be conflated with his other conclusions and reasoning. Marx is complex enough that, if we are willing to take the time and effort, we can tease out the many different and fascinating threads in his writing and thought.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Matias Gimenez: "Marx proposes that eventually, capital owners would absorb everything, creating a ever shrinking pool of rich people, or bourgeois, and a ever growing mass of poor people, growing poorer generation after generation. Capitalism proved Marx wrong. Poverty descenced worldwide and wealth is at its highest for all humans, all of this without taking into account that the amount of rich people is actually growing."


Thanks for the feedback, Matias. I have heard this objection before, and think it fails to take something rather important into account: the impact that civil society (comprised of many socialist institutions and policies) has had on capitalism in terms of wealth production and distribution. When you remove the institutions and policies that strengthen civil society — and we have plenty of examples of places in the world and times in history where this was the case — Marx completely nails the outcome. When you factor those variables back in, they have indeed softened the outcomes Marx predicted, even though there is significant statistical support for growing wealth concentrations and disparities despite that softening. But the point is that without the mitigation of all sorts of structures that contain, restrict, regulate and “egalitarianize” capitalism, it would follow (and has followed) the trajectory Marx predicts. Socialism has manifested in many forms to ensure the slowing of the capitalist self-destructive spiral, in the form of unions and collective bargaining, wage laws, worker protections, child labor laws, etc. Add to these things consumer protections, environmental regulations, and the general rule of law in commerce…then add central controls (monetary policy, economic policy, financial regulations, etc.), and that completes the slowing down of many negative externalities as well as skyrocketing wealth disparity…and indeed encourages a broader platform of economic mobility. But make no mistake, the laissez-faire folks have always fought tooth-and-nail against these “socialist” intrusions into markets. This is the irony of modern neoliberalism: capturing the government and reversing socialistic reforms is what indeed improves short-term profits and wealth retainment for the owner-shareholder class…but it devastates the economic mobility and stable civil society that ensures a thriving, growing economy over the long-run. It’s why trickle-down supply-side economics never works, and why it always has to be rescued from itself (again, via socialistic reforms and stronger civil society). So again…Marx was actually correct about capitalism, but socialism has helped address the worst offenses. That is why “mixed” economies around the globe are the only ones that have consistently thrived over time.

Comment by Ian Rae: "Neither did Marx think violent revolution was necessary as he said in those countries which were developed enough it wasn’t necessary, England for one."


Ian I think you are splitting hairs. Yes, England is cited as a singular European example where “social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means” (Engels re: Marx. Vol.1). This implies, in contrast with Marx’s frequent use of more violent language throughout all three volumes regarding both recurring crises and inevitable disruptions, catastrophes, attacks, rebellions, revolutions, etc. that England would be among very few exceptions. The historical and predictive picture Marx paints is otherwise pretty grim (in terms of revolution, counterrevolution, the degradation of the working class, inevitable conflict, etc.). But, more specifically, Marx’s violent-conflict-centric language here is striking: Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 136 November 1848. And of course the Communist Manifesto itself states plainly:

“Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie. In depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.” And, later in the Manifesto: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”


Of course, later on Marx softened his tone, seeming to appreciate the potential role of democratic reforms more acutely. Frankly, I think he recognized his error. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t make that error earlier on…though it was an understandable one in the context of his times.

Admittedly, Lenin entirely abandoned any reformist mechanisms or tone in favor of wholesale slaughter of all bourgeoisie resistance. This was an unfortunate evolution in Marxist-Leninism. But we cannot say that the seeds for this more egregious mistake weren’t sewn earlier by the language and attitudes of both Marx and Engels.

Follow up from Ian Rae: "At the time Marx wrote about violent revolution , the working class didn’t have the vote , so how else could they achieved power and even then Marx and Engels realised an overwhelming majority would need to understand the concept of socialism and want to organise for its inception."


That is simply not true, Ian. Aside from what was occurring in Great Britain, see: Corsican Constitution, Polish-Lithuanian Constitution, French Revolution & National Convention (male suffrage, etc.), and of course the U.S. Constitution…all of which occurred prior to first publications of Das Kapital, the Communist Manifesto, etc. You could argue that Marx “awoke” to the power of democratic agency by observing the Paris Commune…sure. But lots of stuff was going on throughout Europe and all around the globe in terms of “revolutionary” democratic changes prior to that. Marx just wasn’t paying attention…or didn’t think those changes would be sufficient (at first). Hence Marx made a mistake. That’s all it was. Just a simple, human mistake. Which is why I find it a little bit silly that anyone would try to defend Marx’s choices as anything but that.

Is middle America at risk of being permanently shut out from the modern economy? What policies, if any, would help revitalize these communities?

Thanks for the question.

This line of questioning has been around for many decades now. When I worked at a Public Policy Center in the 1990s, for example, the revitalization of failing rural communities centered around addressing precisely this concern. I also think the degradation of economic mobility and the U.S. middle class is so keenly felt right now that this alone contributed more than any other single factor to Donald Trump getting elected in 2016. There is a sense of desperation in the air. So what can be done….?
Here are a few options that IMO are worth reflecting upon:

1. Mixed economies have always thrived because they strike a balance between corporatocracy and maintaining a more egalitarian civil society. Right now civic institutions are under attack all around the globe, and most acutely in the U.S. Restoring those institutions (the rule of law, vibrant democracy, promotion of educational access and intellectual inquiry, the primacy of science, progressive taxation, robust social safety nets, etc.) is certainly a worthwhile objective in this regard. The challenge, of course, is that there is a well-organized, well-funded pro-corporate, market-centric neoliberal propaganda engines (see L7 Neoliberalism) that have decimated the public discourse, obscured good data, and distorted truth in favor of laissez-faire and crony capitalism — thus counteracting the benefits of a more balanced or “mixed” approach. So part of the solution will have to be an aggressive effort to disrupt this propaganda campaign and undermine the false narrative created by right-wing think tanks and corporate media. This is doable…but it needs to become a central focus of progressive-leaning politics in the U.S. The liars and cheats need to be called out and shut down…and, optimistically, Trump may have become a catalyst for precisely this sort of shift in the Zeitgeist and populist activism. The impact the Parkland students have had (i.e. Florida gun legislation) is an example of what can happen when bullshit policies and ideology are confronted head-on by ordinary folk.

2. Raising awareness about the inevitable negative consequences of conspicuous consumption, unsustainable production practices, and self-sabotaging growth-dependent economics is also a key component. Here again we’ll need to counter pervasive neoliberal propaganda, but once ordinary folks understand that America has been — collectively, individually and nationally — living well beyond its means for some time now, this will help reintroduce a sense of “reasonableness” to the economic discussion, and indeed create more realistic expectations about the future. As a culture (and an economy), we simply can’t keep over-consuming while insisting the supply of cheap labor and abundant natural resources will remain unlimited forever. It’s just silly. But once we awaken to the realities of what “sustainability” looks and feels like, the economic disparities have a real opportunity to attenuate — if only because the wedge of scarcity can them become less wide, and less pointy.

3. Moral maturity is a big piece of this. It has always been the case that Americans lag behind other developed countries in the sophistication of their values hierarchy. The immature “I/Me/Mine” mentality (i.e. individualistic economic materialism) has consistently been a huge contributor to really unfortunate and self-sabotaging social, economic and political choices in the U.S. Of course, it does serve commercialistic consumerism quite well…when folks are infantilized and dependent, they buy stuff reflexively when they are “sold” on exciting self-centered benefits. So breaking free of this childishness is an essential process. Who do we do this? I have many ideas that I discuss in my Integral Lifework literature (see freely downloadable stuff at Integral Lifework Downloads), but mainly it’s about self-nurturing across multiple dimensions of being. This is somewhat ironic because on the surface it still sounds self-absorbed, but consider that among the dimensions being supported are things like “Supportive Community,” “Fulfilling Purpose” and “Affirming Integrity.” In other words, many of the dimensions being addressed specifically challenge a self-centered ideation and identity. In any case, the underlying assumption is that when human beings are fully nurtured, they naturally express their prosocial tendencies…and prosocial tendencies are what “moral maturity” amplifies and supports.

4. Lastly, I think the ultimate solution will demand we depart from capitalism altogether, as it is that system which inherently generates inequality, scarcity and economic instability — but of course this will take both time and a very clear vision of where to go next. But before we can even have that discussion, the groundwork has to be addressed via the issues and activism described above. Otherwise, as when Klaatu offered his gift upon arriving on Earth, a reactive, fearful and immature populace will try to kill any new ideas.

My 2 cents.

How do you explain the difference between Marxism, socialism, and communism in brief to a child?

Thanks for the question. “Brief” isn’t going to cut it. Despite popular myths and misconceptions, you can’t impart real wisdom, history or quality information in a tweet…and even clever parables have their limitations. So discussing socialism in any meaningful way will take some time. The age of the child, and how much they already know about the world, will also require different approaches. But here’s one simplified version you could try:

First gather together a hammer, some of the child’s favorite toys, a pile of clothing, and a bag of unbuttered popcorn.

1) A long time ago, before your parents were even born, there were no factories. People often made things themselves at home (like this clothing, for example, or these toys, or this popcorn). Or, if they had enough money or a skill of equal value to trade with someone, they could have other people make these things for them. Other folks actually had servants or slaves to make things for them. But at that time, not everyone could have everything they wanted! Imagine that. Some people could have lots of toys and clothes and popcorn…but most people could only have very little. And some people — the very poor and the slaves — might not have any at all. As a result, there were some very rich folks who had all of the money and freedom, and who controlled most of society — but all of the poor people (which was most of the people!) had very little say in things.

2) Then the “capitalist” factories arrived. How this happened is another story in itself…but it changed everything. Suddenly people didn’t make things at home anymore, or rely on a few skilled people to make them, or have slaves do the work. Instead, huge buildings full of workers made things…and made LOTS of them. Imagine a steady supply of toys, clothing and popcorn now available for everyone. And one very promising hope was that the workers in the factories got paid money so they could (in theory, at least) buy some of the things they made! The basic idea here was that, because of factories, more and more people could have more and more stuff. Now, even the very poor people could get a job at a factory with the hope of buying some toys and clothes and popcorn!

3) This seems like a pretty good deal, right? But then people started noticing some not-so-good things about these factories — and the cities that grew around them. For example, the factories would hire anyone — including little kids not much older than you — and work them really hard. Children, mothers and fathers all had really long work-days, too…sometimes ten hours or more…and without any breaks! Often the factories would keep people working all week long. No days off! And the working conditions were also often horrible and unsafe. Workers would get injured, or sick, from their jobs in the factories. Sometimes they even died or were maimed for life because conditions were so bad. And the worst thing was, the folks who ran the factories didn’t do anything to help the workers who were injured or sick — they would just hire new ones to replace them instead. In addition to this, the wages paid to work at the factories were very low. So low, in fact, that many factory workers often couldn’t even afford the things the factory made. And, lastly, the cities around these factories were becoming unbearably toxic with pollution from the factories. The air became unbreathable, lakes and streams became so polluted that all of the fish died and no one could drink the water, and even the soil itself became so spoiled that nothing would grow in it.

4) So where did the promise of spreading prosperity go…? Who was getting rich while everyone else was getting sicker and poorer, and the land, water and air was becoming poisoned? And who was actually buying what the factories made? It was the “capitalist” owners and managers of factories who were getting rich, and who could always afford to buy factory-made goods, and make the time to enjoy them if they wanted to. Isn’t that interesting? So it ended up that the factory workers, who were risking their health and lives, gave up most of their time and well-being to make things for the factory owners and managers, who were enjoying most of the fruits of the workers’ labor. And those owners and managers got richer and richer, and bought more and more toys and clothes and popcorn, and had more and more time to enjoy life…while the factory workers just kept…well, slaving away at their jobs. So this would be like me keeping all of your clothes, your toys, and this popcorn for myself…and not letting you have any, even though you yourself made the clothes, toys and popcorn! Do you think that is very nice?

5) Well, “socialists” didn’t think that this situation was very nice. “Socialists” believed that everyone should benefit from the goods the factories made. These socialists also thought the factory owners had too much power, were being too greedy, and weren’t treating workers in a kind or humane way. So socialist movements tried to protect workers from harm, give them better wages, and offer them a better life that was less like a slave’s. Many socialists thought the best way to do this was to have governments — which would be elected by a majority of workers — oversee how the factories were run. Some socialists thought that factories should be taken away from their original owners altogether! Other socialists believed that the government shouldn’t be involved at all, but instead that small cooperatives of people should control how things were made and distributed in their community…and between their community and other communities. But the idea was that, if the public — all of society — had a say in how toys and clothes and popcorn were produced and distributed, then there wouldn’t be so many poor people, or terrible working conditions, and a lot more folks could enjoy these things together. Wouldn’t you like some popcorn? Well, lots of people agreed with this, but the question for socialists then became: how could society bring this new arrangement into being?

6) Now two of these socialists were named Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and they came up with a version of socialism called “Marxism.” Marx believed that, in order to make the capitalist factory owners kinder and more fair, there had to be a revolution led by the workers. That is, he thought the only way to make socialism happen was through a big fight, where the working class rose up against the factory owners, and took the factories away from them by force. Eventually, Marx thought, this revolution would lead to an end result — many years in the future — where all people would live in more harmony with each other, and their wouldn’t be differences in class, or wealth, or political power, and everyone would be involved in making decisions together (including about how clothing was made, how toys and popcorn were shared, and so forth). This eventual conclusion of the revolution would be called “communism,” and Marx famously described the communist ideal this way: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” So folks in a communist society would make toys and clothes and popcorn together, according to their ability, and then give those toys and clothes and popcorn to the folks who needed them.

7) Unfortunately, there was a big problem, and that was that many of the people who tried to carry out Marx’s violent revolution (and much of this happened after Marx passed away) didn’t really follow through on the rest of his ideas. Instead of giving the power and authority in society to the workers, as other socialists (and Marx himself) had planned to do, they kept the power for themselves. They did take the factories away from the rich owners, along with all the rich folks’ money, and used the workers to fight this violent and bloody takeover…again, using workers kind of like slave soldiers. But then the rulers of the revolution kept all of the money and power for themselves — and they ended up with all the best popcorn, all the best toys, and all the best clothes. So the basic situation — suffering workers slaving away for wealthy leaders who had all the control — really didn’t change. So the “revolution” never led to the “communist” ideal that Marx and Engels envisioned…even though it was still called “Communism” by many people!

8-) Now in other places around the world, “socialism” was put into practice without a violent revolution. This is where our worker’s labor unions came from, and worker’s rights and protections at factories — so they could be safe and work a reasonable number of hours in a day, a reasonable number of days in a week, had time off for recreation, and so on. Socialists are why we have weekends and vacations! You’ve probably also noticed that children like you aren’t working in very many factories anymore either, and that was because socialists advocated for laws making child labor illegal. And there are now also certain factories and services that are run by the government as well, so that everyone can have equal access to their products and service. This is called “socializing” something. So socialized medicine, socialized transportation, socialized retirement, and so forth…these are all a result of socialism, and help all of society have more freedom and feel safe, with everyone sharing the costs and benefits together. There are also companies that have “socialized” themselves — that is, given ownership of the factory to the workers, so the workers manage themselves. But the key to all of this…and this is important…is that these “socialized” societies always have open and fair elections — they have a strong democracy, where everyone can vote. Because if the workers can’t vote, well then there won’t really be freedom and equality, will there? What if, whenever you asked for popcorn, or new clothes, or a new toy, I always said “No, you can’t have that?” That’s what a dictator or authoritarian does. In this way, socialism is really part of almost every capitalist, democratic country in the world today, and socialist ideas are used whenever their needs to be more freedom and equality in a society…as long as there is also democracy.

9) Finally, you have probably been wondering what this hammer is for, right? This hammer is the threat of fascism and totalitarianism. I won’t go into what causes people to become fascists and totalitarians…that is a story for another time, but let’s just say it is a kind of mental illness that spreads through a mob. Fascists and totalitarians have no respect for equality, freedom or fairness…no respect for anyone but themselves, really. All they are really good at is destroying democracy and civil society — that is, taking away people’s freedoms and equality. Imagine if I smashed all of your toys with this hammer! That wouldn’t be very nice, would it? But that is what fascists will do if you don’t give them whatever they want. They are big bullies. And that is why, when you are old enough to vote, you want to be very careful about who you vote for. Now, after we have put these clothes away, maybe you and I can have some popcorn together, and play with your toys. What do you think…?

My 2 cents.

Is Peter Thiel correct that in stating that less democracy is desirable and required to save capitalism?

Well…hmm…Thiel appears to exhibit some fairly psychopathic ideation, along with a paucity of emotional intelligence — a combination that is routinely rewarded by modern capitalism. Among the many things he simply doesn’t understand or appreciate is human motivation itself: why do people do what they do? In his universe, the will to power/wealth/superiority is really the only viable, universal prime cause. There is nothing else. This fundamental failure (of both imagination and cogent observation of the human condition) could have been influenced by Thiel’s exposure to folks like Rothbard, Rand, Friedman, Mises and the like; but I think the starting point in this case is just an inner brokenness and lack of cognitive-emotive facility. Thiel is stuck.

And it is that stuckness — that profound limitation — which leads Thiel to his conclusions about democracy. It’s a bit like a child insisting that a dog ate his homework. Blaming welfarism, feminism, progressivism, socialism…or any other “social justice” agenda for the failures of capitalism is…well, it’s just stupid. Really stupid. Capitalism is its own worst enemy, and, with a brief and unique exception of laissez faire in Sweden during the late 1800s, has otherwise universally ended up eating its own tail without socialistic and democratic reforms. Why? Because of natural monopolies, resource depletion, market saturation, the spread of price-inelastic demand across most commodities, lack of profit incentive for public goods, increasing concentrations of wealth and exponentially expanding wealth disparities, negative externalities, inevitable wage stagnation, and a host of other factors. Democracy has absolutely nothing to do with any of these. In fact, it is usually democracy and socialized approaches that contain capitalism’s drive to self-immolate; they are the only reason capitalism’s inevitable death has been delayed.

So, just like the Presidential candidate Thiel supported, and the counterproductive US economic agenda playing itself out now around the globe, Thiel’s ideas in this area are woefully misinformed and, ultimately, really destructive.

My 2 cents.

Why are Western democracies failing...?

Thanks for the question.

Michael Kupperberg makes an excellent point in his answer, as does Jeff Franz-LIen in his comments to it. (See original Quora question here: https://www.quora.com/Be-it-resolved-that-Western-democracies-are-failing-What-is-your-case-for-the-affirmative) This “left behind” cultural and economic phenomenon is certainly one piece of the picture. Here are some thoughts on the rest of that picture…

1. **Western democracies have lost their way because they have forgotten what democracy is about: thoughtful engagement in democratic institutions by the electorate itself. **In large part this has been engineered by the folks who want to retain power and wealth: wherever the electorate can be effectively manipulated, demoralized and/or disenfranchised to produce desired outcomes, methods will be used aggressively to do so. As a result of the “consumer” mentality in Western democracies (i.e. thinking they can remain disengaged, spoon-fed information, and called-to-action only once every few years to response to well-funded ad campaigns), the electorates of those countries are increasingly subject to coercive manipulation. We see this over-and-over again with surveys that show those who voted for something (Prop 8 in California, Brexit in the UK, etc.) sour to what they voted for in growing numbers AFTER the election is over and they begin to check the facts. The well-funded persuaders and manipulators, on the other hand, are well-versed in tactics that evoke strong short-term emotions around a given issue, and thus secure the passing or defeating of a given candidate or legislation. But the blame can also be laid (and should be laid, more vocally, IMO) at the feet of lazy voters who don’t educate themselves about a given candidate or issue, and just wait to be told how to vote by their favorite authorities (news media, talk show hosts, blogs, campaign ads, etc.).

2. **The world has become much more complex, interdependent, and multifaceted — making democratic decisions much more difficult.** Black-and-white reasoning doesn’t work well for most modern, highly nuanced issues, which inherently invoke myriad interdependencies. Throw some unintended consequences into the mix, along the deliberate corruption of data and information warfare (i.e. climate change deniers, disallowing the CDC to collect gun violence statistics, etc.), and the picture becomes so muddy that people really don’t understand the parameters of a given political position, policy or other important and pressing issues. Of course, this situation is taken advantage of by those same nefarious actors called out in issue #1 above, making the situation much more confusing and challenging than it otherwise would be.

My 2 cents.

Does capitalism have a negative affect on people’s sanity?

The evidence keeps accumulating that conditions which are amplified by capitalist values, work environments and economic systems do seem to have a negative impact on human well-being overall — and yes, specifically on human mental health. Some of this appears to be direct causality, and some of it more indirect. For example:

1) Accelerating (technological and societal) change driven by rapid product cycles and growth-dependent production induces stress, which in turn increases stress-related mental illness and dysfunction (depression, anxiety, etc.) to clinical levels. Would this still occur if there wasn’t so much pressure, created by the profit motive, to constantly produce and consume “bigger, better, faster, cheaper, easier” products? Possibly, but likely not at the same pace, or with such a precipitous impact.

2) Many products are designed to become addictive — or at least to create a dependent consumer — again in service to the profit motive. Everything from cigarettes to fast food to social media to video games have been designed from the ground up to “hook” consumers into ever-increasing and prolonged use. This, in turn, has led to some fairly serious mental health impacts, such as ADHD, cognitive impairments and distortions linked with prolonged sleep deprivation, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, emotional dysregulation, and so forth.

3) Capitalist work environments create some of the most emotionally and mentally antagonistic conditions humanity has ever seen. Humans performing highly repetitive tasks for excessively long work-days and work-weeks, while under constant stress of losing their job if they don’t perform; high-pressure sales environments where employees are likewise subject to constant fear of not meeting quotas, and viciously compete with each other for sales; corporate culture that constantly lies to employees to extract the tiniest bit more productivity from them, and encourages them to lie to customers to maintain profits and avoid losses. These environments create stressed, fearful, reactive, deceitful human beings who, in turn, are rewarded for essentially harming each other and the customers they serve. This is a pretty pathological situation, and shapes pretty pathological people.

4) The more indirect consequences of capitalism on mental health are a result of negative externalities. Chemical pollutants from “rush to market” mass production, poor nutrition from foods designed to maximize profit, disregard for electromagnetic pollution, and other environmental impacts almost certainly have a deleterious effect on human mental health. In fact, these may be impacting the human genome itself, as we have seen a marked rise in things like autism spectrum disorder.

These are just a few examples, but the real issue is the epigenetic impact of these capitalist pressures on the human species. Our children are now inheriting the mental illnesses induced by capitalist environments and culture…which means that, even if we counter the causes, the negative impacts will still be passed on to future generations. It’s a pretty bad situation. I liken it to Colony Collapse Disorder among bee populations: eventually, capitalism will so thoroughly undermine human well-being that our entire society will simply fail. It’s just a matter of time.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Isaac Armstrong: "I wish I could upvote this, as I agree with most points made, but autism spectrum disorder’s rise is probably a consequence of expanding the range of diagnosis, for example the documents that resulted in me being diagnosed with developmental delays with autism like symptoms on review based on newer diagnostic requirements consistently results in a diagnosis of autism - something about a vital symptom for diagnosis that is no longer required.

I remember reading somewhere that even earlier than that, it was defined only in the exact form that the guy who gave it the name autism saw it, most definitely not including aspergers in the autism spectrum disorders.
This is a bit of a long comment so thanks for reading it and in summary autism spectrum disorder is not a good measure as it has been broadened."


Thanks Isaac. I have read about the diagnosis issue before and agree that this is a huge variable that must be accounted for — especially in epidemiological analysis of ASD going back any number of decades (as reinforced by studies like this one: Diagnostic change and the increased prevalence of autism | International Journal of Epidemiology | Oxford Academic). However, even though genetics alone does account for some 50% of ASD, there is increasing evidence that environmental triggers (including some we can squarely place at the feet of capitalism) play a significant role in ASD’s phenotypical expression. You may be interested in this article regarding environmental factors: Environmental factors influencing the risk of autism As well as this one regarding genome-wide analysis: The Role of Epigenetic Change in Autism Spectrum Disorders. There is growing evidence (in studies that control for the very diagnostic variables you allude to) that the etiology of ASD is linked to risk factors that are indeed increasing, and that ASD itself is indeed increasing among the population. For more about this: The prevalence puzzle: Autism counts and Socioeconomic Status and the Increased Prevalence of Autism in California. I think the most definitive research is yet to be completed…but it IS underway. Take a look at CRAIG NEWSCHAFFER’s work and this: EARLI Study - Research Into Early Causes of Autism.

I hope this is helpful info.

Is pastoral art/literature an expression of human disdain towards urbanization and the alienation of people from their species-essence (human nature) in a capitalist society?

Thanks for the question Douglas.

This question (or some version of it) has actually been widely debated in the arts, philosophy and even religion for many decades. A fairly pervasive view is that yes, many of the creative, philosophical and spiritual subjects and expressions (across all mediums, really) just after the industrial revolution began were a reaction to that industrialization and the alienation of human beings from natural environments, from their historical social relationships, and indeed from their spiritual nature. This observed pattern/reaction was a fairly dominant feature of discourse at that time, and has persisted across multiple fields of study. Here is just one example of that view (from Romanticism and the Industrial Revolution):

“Romanticism was also closely tied to the Industrial Revolution in Europe. From the latter decades of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, most of Europe and particularly what is now the United Kingdom saw a massive migration of rural workers into large metropolitan areas. These workers were making the jump in order to work in the large factories that were springing up all over metropolitan areas as manufacturing capacity, aided by steam engines and copious supplies of coal, exploded all across Europe. Romanticism also played upon this drastic societal change, as many in Europe witnessed the large-scale pollution of coal-burning industry and the problems it caused, including water pollution and incredibly poor air quality for many major cities, as well as the many health problems that sprang up in its wake. Romanticism emphasized nature over industry, a point where again we can see the dominant force of the age (the Industrial Revolution) itself helping to create an art movement that began as a foil to that dominant force and then grew.”


Along with the Romanticism of the visual arts, literature and even music, there was also an equivalent romanticism in philosophy and a parallel transcendentalism in spirituality. Here alienation from Nature itself was a chief concern — as was the Enlightenment’s seeming overdependence on empiricism, rationalism and reductionism (a la Descartes, etc.). From 19th Century Romantic Aesthetics:

“We have fallen out with nature, and what was once (as we believe) One is now in conflict with itself, and mastery and servitude alternate on both sides. It often seems to us as if the world were everything and we nothing, but often too as if we were everything and the world nothing. (Hölderlin, Preface to Hyperion, HSA 3: 326).”


And from Romanticism:

“Philosophical Romanticism holds that the universe is a single unified and interconnected whole, and full of values, tendencies and life, not merely objective lifeless matter. The Romantic view is that reason, objectivity and analysis radically falsify reality by breaking it up into disconnected lifeless entities, and the best way of perceiving reality is through some subjective feeling or intuition, through which we participate in the subject of our knowledge, instead of viewing it from the outside. Nature is an experience, and not an object for manipulation and study, and, once experienced, the individual becomes in tune with his feelings and this is what helps him to create moral values.”

One of the more influential thinkers and writers of this era was Henry David Thoreau, and I would encourage you to read any-and-all of his writings here: Thoreau’s Writings. It’s actually pretty entertaining reading, and IMO still holds relevance and potency.

As you know, Marx himself expounded extensively about a similar flavor of alienation, unnatural rearrangement of social relations, and destruction of the creative capacities and nature of human beings. His take, however, was that the heart of the problem was less empiricism or rationalism, but rather capitalism in concert with industrialization — and in fact he sought to examine the underlying socio-economic dynamics using the tools of the Enlightenment (math, science, rational discourse, etc).

Since the time of those initial reactions and expressions, advanced human societies have largely adapted to urban, industrialized life, along with its cultural diversity and affluence, individualistic isolation, increased pollution and violence, wide array of interests and discourse, etc. — that is, its many pluses and minuses. There are still movements that seek to reconnect people with each other and with Nature, as well as intermittent cultural convulsions when modernity’s negative externalities become too dangerous or extreme (the 1960s in the U.S. was, I think, a fairly pronounced example of this). But for the most part, like proverbial frogs in a pot of water that is slowly coming to a boil, human beings have largely become numb to the deleterious impacts of industrialized, urbanized life. In fact, some folks will fiercely defend its “advantages.” But, as increasing breakdowns and challenges seem to attest — and here I am referring to everything from increases in mental illness and autism, to increases in cancer and diabetes, to the steady decline in human IQ, to the increasing depression and anxiety of each generation, to the increasing homogenization and nutritional emptiness of our food supply, etc. — the “frog” of humanity is slowly being destroyed by everything the Romantics were railing against.

My 2 cents.

Why do American Christians tend to gravitate towards free-markets and economic liberty, instead of socialism?

Thanks for the question Alex.

I think the OP’s question is based on a popular misconception. If you look at the data (see Pew’s Religious Landscape Study), those who self-identify as Christian in the U.S. are actually fairly evenly divided between liberal and conservative viewpoints (i.e. pro-government programs to help the poor vs. anti-government, pro life vs. pro choice, supportive of same-sex marriage vs. opposed, protecting the environment vs. less business regulation, etc.). It is true that these proportions don’t mirror the general population precisely — Christians do tend to skew slightly more conservative on certain social, political and economic issues. Again however, within the Christian community, folks are fairly evenly divided between liberal and conservative viewpoints.

So that leaves us with two distinct questions:

1) Why are misconceptions about U.S. Christians so out-of-line with the available data?

2) Why do any Christians at all “gravitate towards free-markets and economic liberty, instead of socialism?”

These are fairly easy to answer, IMO.

First, pervasive misconceptions about Christians and Christian beliefs have persisted for millenia…so that’s not exactly new. What is new is a media landscape that loves sensationalism, and that reliably turns its attention to the most vocal and “colorful” variations of any given group. All environmentalists aren’t vegans, all gun owners don’t love the NRA, all Muslims aren’t terrorists or terrorist supporters, and all Christians don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade. But the strong cultural memes that circulate via mass media are compelled to capitalize on loud, combative, sensational extremes so they can maximize advertising dollars. So those who passively and unquestioningly consume that media can arrive at some pretty bizarre generalizations about various groups. Not that those generalizations have no basis, but they tend to focus on highly exaggerated “far end of the spectrum” squeaky wheels. Can we even generalize that U.S. Christians “believe in God?” Sure, that usually holds…but even in this instance there are plentiful exceptions (the Pew study reference above indicates only 76% of Christians are “absolutely certain” in the existence of God…).

Second, there have been concerted efforts by Right-leaning political interests in the U.S. to capture various groups, and generate opposition to others, for their own nefarious ends. You have the Southern Strategy, two Red Scares, the McCarthy era, and a consistent propaganda effort since about 1972 (by neoliberal think tanks, wealthy donors, conservative media, etc.) to demonize socialism and “big bad government,” and lionize free markets and “more efficient” business solutions that can supposedly remedy ALL social and civic issues. It is no accident that the term “godless communists” entered the popular vernacular, was perpetuated there, and was relentlessly associated with anything that interfered with corporate power and profits. For some time, part of the neoliberal objective has clearly been to consolidate very different ideologies under one single, pro-corporate, anti-government agenda. Each targeted group (fiscal conservatives, religious conservatives, right-libertarians, gun-lovers, immigrant-haters, etc.) has been carefully marketed an appealing brand of political groupthink that claims to champion their key concerns. In reality, of course, those key concerns are always subjugated to the primary aim of disabling government in favor of enriching a few owner-shareholders at everyone else’s expense. It’s little more than a long con.

So, you might then ask, why don’t Christians see through the sham? This leads into an interesting discussion about whether culture determines religious orthodoxy, or religion influences culture. I think there is some give-and-take there, but that established cultural programming usually wins out in the end. Historically and into modern times, “Christian” nations generally do not reflect Christ-like values, but rationalize or justify pre-existing cultural values via distorted religious legalism. If all U.S. Christians really wanted to emulate Christ and follow biblical teachings, they would have difficulty being conformant capitalists at all — and certainly would not support the “greed, guns and greatness are good” sentiments that so permeate the political Right today. Authentic Christian believers do, in fact, tend to be much more Left-leaning and socialistic. I actually wrote a book about this issue, A Progressive's Guide to the New Testament, which covers the evidence to support this view with great care.

My 2 cents.

Why are economists giving up on Milton Friedman theories?

Thanks for the question. So here’s the deal with Friedman…

IMO a lot of his theories sound really good — especially to those who lean toward market fundamentalism (Austrian School folks, Rothbardian right-libertarians, Randian objectivists, neoliberals, etc.). And Friedman’s self-confident style of discourse — often pedantic and even combative — has added to his appeal…again, especially for certain kinds of personalities and ideological leanings. And one lasting truth is that Friedman does have some interesting ideas, and that some of those ideas have what we might call “partial merit.” Friedman’s monetarism is a good example, since it only holds true under very specific conditions — conditions that support a relatively constant and self-adjusting velocity of money. And since there have been short periods where this kind of predictability and stability were available, Friedman’s views were vindicated by the use of monetary tools at those times. But when new variables have been introduced into the picture — indeed when the larger, longer and predictable macroeconomic economic cycles are taken into account — then the stability of monetary velocity and long-term “neutrality” break down…and break down fast. And Friedman’s prescriptions break down right along with them.

There are things I like about Fiedman — his promotion of guaranteed minimum income, for example — but, like many of his other ideas, there isn’t a lot of evidence to support the efficacy of that approach. And…and this is the really important point IMO…there is a LOT of evidence that whenever Friedman or his Chicago Boys got involved in economic policy in a given country or region, things got pretty bad for those populations. All around the globe, developing countries in particular are still reeling from the structural adjustment policies, aggressive privatization, loosening of government regulation and other bad advice that Friedman promoted over 40+ years. And this is why economists are “giving up” on Friedman’s ideas…not because they don’t have “partial merit,” because they do. But they also — by and large — have had pretty disastrous results whenever they were not implemented within, and constrained by, what is essentially a more Keynesian macroeconomic framework.

In this particular case (the linked article for the OP’s question), the “permanent income hypothesis” again sounded really good — reasonable, predictable, rules-based. Friedman was a genius at bringing order to chaos. It’s just, well…people, and markets, and the consequences of economic policies, and the highly variable inputs and outputs of all human systems, remain pretty chaotic regardless of the rules (or, in this case, expectations) imposed on them.

My 2 cents.

Is it possible to imagine a pure economic action independent of politics?

Thanks for the question. Like many others, I see them as inseparably intertwined. There are folks (usually on the market fundamentalist end of the spectrum, such as anarcho-capitalists) who like to believe that economic systems can somehow operate independently of politics — and that, in fact, this is a desirable state. And, as an ideal, I can see why it would be an attractive fantasy: rational actors motivated purely by efficiency and utility, exchange value dictated solely by demand and supply, etc. But in the real world, economic choices always involve political causality, and vice versa; motivations and calculations are not rational, but psychosocial within a given cultural context. Which is, I suspect, why the term “political economy” came into being.

That said, can we “imagine” conditions where the two are teased apart? Well, interestingly, if we go far enough downstream in terms of individual transactions, econometrics, automated trades and the like, it is possible to divorce politics from the conversation altogether, and just focus on the math. But, in isolation, that doesn’t really help us manage the overall economic system — or navigate it with any amount of insight or wisdom. Purely mathematical maps must be augmented by behavioral and sociopolitical maps to flesh out the macro and micro economics in play enough to, say, develop policies and strategies. So it is possible to analyze and act in brief, targeted bursts of “non-political economic action,” but it is like any other specialized discipline or activity that is superficially isolated from its larger context: it is not the full picture.

My 2 cents.

What is the moral basis for the existence of government?

Thanks for the question.

First, I would say that government has no moral basis (or authority) unless it has been granted them by its citizens. There are various mechanisms to do this — to temporarily transfer collective moral agency to elected representatives and civic institutions, for example — that are grounded in an ongoing collective agreement, and allow adjustment, accountability and malleability over time. It is in these cases that we can say that the moral will of the populace is being expressed by its government, and thereby providing its “moral basis.”

Second, as a fine example, I would encourage examining John Rawls’ “original position” argument as one morally framed approach to governance (i.e. one that promotes fairness, justice and equality according to the most generous definitions of those terms as broadly accepted values). His thought experiment is very simple, very clear, and very “reasonable.” And within his arguments, the moral authority of representatives operating behind Rawls’ veil of ignorance becomes self-evident.

Third, I would say that the morality of government must therefore reflect the moral maturity of its populace. This is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the equation, because once the two (collective will vs. civic institutions) starts getting out-of-synch, the the moral agreements that justify government break down. Such an unfortunate state of disequilibrium is pretty much where we are today in the U.S., where some 30% of the electorate has regressed to a level of moral immaturity that is aggressively corroding more advanced civic institutions.

Fourth, I would loudly assert that this isn’t the end of the conversation — not even the beginning of the end — because there are so many other considerations. For example, there are additional features that bolster the intimacy and harmony between collective will and civic institutions: things like subsidiarity, direct democracy, egalitarian efficiency, critically reflective participatory action, reducing interference with liberty…and many more. These really must be considered in the context of any “moral basis” for government, because they directly impact the efficacy, stability and continuity of the collective agency that governance manifests.

For more on how I would propose approaching all of this (and why), consider checking out L e v e l - 7 Philosophy and “The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty” at Essays by T.Collins Logan.

My 2 cents.

What do civilians of former communist countries in Eastern Europe think about communism?

Well it appears that neoliberal propagandists are still up to their old tricks — trying to remake communism into an all-bad Boogeyman that must be feared and loathed. If the anti-Communist answers so far in this thread really are from folks who lived under communism in the former Eastern Bloc, then they are not representative of the majority. For example, according to a number of studies from a couple of years ago (see links at Polls show: Eastern Europeans miss Communism):

- 72% of Hungarians polled said their country is worse off economically than it was under communism. Only 8% believed things were better.

- 63% of Romanians said life was better under communism, while 23% claimed their lives were worse. 68% said communism was a good idea that had been poorly implemented.

- 81% of Serbians said living was better under communism, and 45% trusted civic institutions under communism more than they did at the time of the poll.

- Residents from 7 out of 11 member countries said their countries were harmed more than benefited by the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

It also depends who is being asked — see:
Have living standards in Eastern Europe decreased after Communism? - Debating Europe and The Post-Communist Generation in the Former Eastern Bloc. Even among those more successful countries, sentiments are still divided — mainly with younger generations believing their lives are better off without the communism they never experienced, while older generations maintain quite a bit of nostalgia for those times. You would think that East Germany would be prominent exception, but even there more than half of the population either thinks things were better before capitalism, or were about the same (see: Majority of Eastern Germans Feel Life Better under Communism)

Also, young people who weren’t alive when the U.S.S.R. collapsed will not recall that older people and the poor all across Eastern Europe were protesting their loss of pensions, healthcare, social services, etc. when it happened. And in the U.S., the neoliberal propagandists like to talk about all the terrible things that were going on in the former U.S.S.R., and are loath to admit any positive accomplishments. And of course this is reinforced by Hollywood depictions and the very real history of horrific problems during the Soviet era. But the fact is that those populations did have pensions and healthcare, and that the poor in many cases had a higher and more secure standard of living than the poor in those countries do today under capitalism.

Pro-capitalist pundits love to tout the wonders of the profit motive, but remain blind to what collectivist or nonprofit approaches can achieve. Frankly I think they are terrified by the prospect of socialist success stories, including recognizing America’s success as the result of a mixed economy (i.e. with both socialist and profit-centric elements). Such successes, after all, mean that capitalist owner-shareholders could lose some of their control over worker-consumers and other resources, and not be able to continue manipulating and exploiting them to enlarge their own personal wealth. Perhaps that is why neoliberals are still trying so hard to tear down successful socialist institutions in the U.S.A….?

My 2 cents.

Why is property considered a social construct or a social thing and not something else like natural? I just don't see how it's a social thing.

Property ownership is an entirely contrived and arbitrary social construct. The only thing “natural” about it is the selfish desire to keep things we want to ourselves, or “marking our territory” to attract a mate or feel less threatened. But such primitive instincts are not, in themselves, justified or “right” until society agrees that they are. And there are a LOT of primitive instincts (for example: to kill others, to have sex all the time with different people, to keep eating even whey we’re full, to destroy stuff for fun, to steal things we want, etc.) that are NOT sanctioned by society. So why do we sanction the concept of private property? Why does that have a special, elevated position among all of our animalistic impulses…? Getting down to exactly why this is the case can take some digging into our own tacit assumptions about “why things are.” Most of the time, we operate on an immense framework of culturally programmed reflexes, and have very little awareness why we do the things we do — or believe the things we believe. It takes real effort to challenge that programming, and even more effort to undo it.

My 2 cents.

What is the relationship between political and economic freedom?

They are inseparably linked — and as yet very few societies have been able to champion both at the same time. To have sufficient agency to claim to be “free,” there must of necessity be both egalitarian economic mobility and opportunity, and the broadest consensus of democratic will in self-governance. Sure, civic institutions and competitive markets are helpful first steps…but until you also ensure equity of economic and political influence for every individual, then concentrations of economic power will always coincide with concentrations of political power — it is inevitable and unstoppable. That is why it is so important to extend and support democratic mechanisms across all aspects of society — including economic systems, institutions and processes. This has been the primary failing of modern democratic societies, and why they are increasingly being “captured” by plutocrats and crony capitalism. To reverse this trend, we must move toward a political economy that champions equity rather than arbitrary privilege, and consensus and direct/semi-direct democratic mechanisms rather than insulated party bureaucracies.

My 2 cents.

Why do Americans hate the idea of a socialist government? Socialism and communism are not the same thing.

Thanks for the question. In the U.S. we can draw a fairly straight line between anti-socialist sentiments and decades of neoliberal propaganda. For example the Red Scares that were invented after each World War planted the rhetoric and polemics that later became more widespread, “mainstream assumptions.” With Americans, many falsehoods that were propagated in this way have to be carefully confronted in order to relieve a prejudicial ignorance. For example, I often find myself defending these factual positions against the steady stream of misinformation flowing out of conservative think tanks, media, political candidates and pundits:

1) The most successful economies in the world are mixed economies that have combined socialist and capitalist principles and practices (this includes the U.S.A.).

2) Socializing certain sectors of an economy has almost universally solved many long-term problems that the profit motive could not regarding public goods, providing much better outcomes for the citizenry. For example, in healthcare, public infrastructure, education, basic utilities, land management, and so on. The insistence by market fundamentalists that the profit motive can solve all complex problems is simply mistaken…and indeed quite harmful in terms of public policy over the long run.

3) Authoritative Marxism-Leninism was a grossly corrupted form of communism that completely negates the fundamental tenet of nearly all forms of socialism (including Marx’s original ideas): that democracy is central to the foundations of a socialistic civil society.

4) Libertarian Socialism (left-libertarianism) has actually been the dominant leaning of libertarianism throughout most of its history, and is actually the only form of libertarianism that has been successfully implemented on various scales.

For more on why this propaganda has been so integral to U.S. politics, I encourage reading this: L7 Neoliberalism

My 2 cents.

Is it possible to just leave everything behind and live as an anarcho-primitivist?

Sure. I’ve personally known people committed to rewilding themselves, and have studied a number of individual examples. I myself have experimented (both purposefully and by unintended accident) with various degrees of both exiting a highly destructive capitalist society, and returning to Nature. It’s not easy, and requires a lot of planning, preparation, education and training. It also requires adequate and compatible natural environs within which to survive. There is a broad spectrum of exit strategies and perspectives, and learning about as many as possible will be helpful. In my own case, each experience taught me a lot about my own limitations, how Nature is often uncooperative regarding human intentions and survival, and how such efforts are indeed liberating in unexpected ways. It also taught me just how much courage is required to self-liberate (be prepared to confront various levels of existential terror on a routine basis). If you are willing to carefully prepare, learn from others who have taken this journey, and be open to having your expectations radically rearranged, then this may be a worthwhile objective for you. Regardless of where you end up in the process, you may find some creative ways to “not participate” in the destruction of planet Earth — and to help others understand the benefits of doing so.

My 2 cents.

Is the United States economy due for a correction?

Well it doesn’t look good in terms of both domestic fundamentals and international trade, considering:

1) The lack of U.S. investment (and political will) around green energy — along with a concurrent attempt to return to the rape-and-pillage model of extraction industries — means both that a highly innovating and job-creating sector will find a place to thrive somewhere outside of the U.S., and that the U.S. will lag behind in implementations and thus be subject to unstable resources, unsustainable production, and amplified negative externalities.

2) Nearly all categories of consumer spending are increasingly dependent on personal credit and increasing debt, and consumer debt burdens cannot increase without limit — thus demand will either attenuate in precipitous ways across multiple sectors, or competitive price inelasticity will shave profit margins to growth-choking levels.

3) When you remove some potential short-term variability, it appears that wages and job growth may remain largely stagnant over the longer run. Ironically, any potential “trickle down” to wages from a lower corporate tax rate (though there is no evidence that this will even be the case — see the next bullet) will be offset by trade protections that encourage low-paying jobs to return to the U.S. — jobs with such tremendous downward pressure on wages (from years of sweatshop exploitation and ever-increasing production efficiencies) that they will likely become the targets of automation.

4) Cuts in corporate and higher income tax rates will not stimulate economic growth — this has always been a neoliberal supply-side fantasy that has never borne fruit. Instead, we already see the amplification of a post-2008 trend where companies hoard cash reserves and buy back stock, further enriching owner-shareholders. And both globally and in the U.S., this concentration of wealth in the top <1% only exacerbates income inequality to an astonishing degree…it never “trickles down” to anyone else, but instead gets tucked away in trusts and offshore accounts — at least this is what all of the available data indicates for the past 40 years.

5) Stock market gains have been largely psychological, and are (once again) relying ever-more-heavily upon speculation and speculative instruments that either are not backed by material assets, or by extremely irrational valuations of assets.
Regulatory constraints on financial institutions are on schedule to be relaxed to pre-2008 conditions.
International trade deals are being threatened and/or scuttled by Trumpian protectionism and the “uncertainty effect” of his leadership style.

6) Intellectual capital is being jeopardized by discouraging immigrants from attending U.S. universities, an ongoing mishandling of the student debt crisis in higher ed, and a lack of investment and excellence in K-12 (alas, neither the profit motive nor aggressive performance metrics have made U.S. education any better).

7) The ongoing assault on the ACA and Medicare will almost certainly result in a shrinking healthcare infrastructure and increasing costs, even as demand accelerates with an aging baby-boomer population — and possibly an increase in disease vectors resulting from climate change. The consequence in the short term from any single one of these will be rapidly rising healthcare premiums and huge losses at hospitals that must serve the uninsured. When you combine all of these variables, I think this trend is one of the more explosive “crash inducers.” Will taxpayers be “bailing out” hospitals and insurance companies next…?

8-) As a more controversial prediction, exponential increases in product complexity, combined with ever-more-rapid product lifecycles, are inviting at best a form of consumer exhaustion — and at worst a concerted consumer backlash — in either case further reducing demand and potential economic growth.

9) As another speculation, since the U.S. government is trapped in a deficit spending spiral that will be amplified by the recent tax reforms, this will — given the current administration’s irrational belief in outdated economic models and ending “the nanny state” — likely result in de facto austerity measures similar to those that have decimated other economies. Paul Ryan and his ilk have already broadcast their intention to do just this.

….And these are just a handful of the known and possible factors. There are dozens of others all pointing in the same direction: increased market instability, excessive leveraging, inflated valuation, hampered productivity, flat or falling real wages, precipitous decreases in demand, increasing trade imbalances, and overall economic stagnation. Add to this that the Federal Reserve now has very little room to maneuver in terms of monetary tools, and anyone with a lick of sense can see the writing on the wall.

My 2 cents.

Why do many people refuse to consider social democracy a form of socialism?

A couple of thoughts on this…

1) Be careful using Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types_of_socialism#Social_democracy). It is Open Source, which is good thing generally IMO, but unfortunately there are folks who have specific agendas, and who edit Wikipedia pages to distort reality in favor of their own ideology. This is precisely what has happened with the definitions and discussions of social democracy on Wikipedia. In my experience, the most extreme distortions will eventually get edited out…but again, just a word of caution. Here is a more nuanced definition that supports the reality that social democracy is, in fact, a form of socialism: Social democracy.

A lot of people really dislike the term “socialism,” because it is so antagonistic to the forms of capitalism they believe in. In particular, laissez-faire capitalists have traditionally attacked ALL forms of socialism from a position of fear and loathing — this is primarily what generated the two “Red Scares” in U.S. history, for example. So when you see folks rabidly defending the falsehood that “social democracy isn’t socialism!” or that “a mixed economy isn’t socialism!” this is frequently issuing from a strong tradition of neoliberal propaganda. For those folks who want to funnel the most profit to owner-shareholders — and away from worker-consumers — any reference to a Socialist Boogeyman in any form must be met with the frantic, frothing rhetoric and hyperbolic polemics (like the ones I myself have just employed).

Now in the U.S. in particular, there is real confusion about what a mixed economy is (i.e. that it is, in fact, a combination of socialism and capitalism), and that social democracy is a very different form of mixed economy (i.e. a much more socialist version) than other forms. A good article that covers the difference between a U.S. Liberalism that “trusts” markets and promotes capitalism, and European social democracies that did NOT trust capitalism and saught to constrain it, can be found here: The Economics Of Social Democracy. In particular, you will note that one of the main features of social democracy to “tame capitalism” is not just regulation, but moving entire industries into the public sector. This is “public ownership of the means of production” in a very clear sense. Again, though, neoliberals and other market fundamentalists will squirm and shiver into condemnatory hysterics whenever this obvious truth is clearly articulated. But alas, they are simply maintaining an unfortunate zeal for denial.

I hope this was helpful.

How would a person living in a society where every type of work is managed by robots and artificial intelligence and with no scarcity find meaning in his life?

Thank you for the question.

There are a number of positions and assertions that approach this question in different ways, among which are:

1) Humans are meaning-making critters who will always invent purpose for themselves, regardless of their situation. In fact, it is often argued that this inventiveness is one of humanity’s chief assets in the face of both calamity/deprivation, and affluence/ease.

2) Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would indicate that once basic needs are met — physical needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and respect — then what remains in that hierarchy is self-actualization. In the environment the OP describes, this self-actualizing pursuit of creativity, realizing personal potential, moral development, etc. seems like a reasonable fit for “finding meaning.”

3) Our current obsession with the materialistic and individualistic is really evidence of a moral immaturity that hinders the natural, intrinsic unfolding of human potential and transformation. Once conditions that perpetuate infantilization and toddlerization of humanity (i.e. economic materialism, commodification, commercialization, etc.) are removed, then human beings will naturally blossom into their next stages of moral/spiritual/consciousness evolution.

There are other possibilities, but I think there is ample evidence, for example, in different educational models and research that shows that self-directedness, curiosity, a sense of play, spontaneous creativity and cooperation, and a host of other positive traits are innate to human beings, and really don’t require much encouragement to flourish. However, since multiple generations have essentially been repressed in these areas, and burdened with invented constraints — rigid institutions, dogmatic ideologies, forms of wage and debt slavery, etc. — that have promoted fear and suffering above our joyful search for meaning, it will likely take a generation or two to recover and regain those inner freedoms once again. Epigenetically, this could present some real challenges — but my hope would be that humans would, in time, bounce back to our curious, adventurous, spontaneous selves.

My 2 cents.

Do capitalists and mercantilists believe and try to make "beggar thy neighbor" in trying to accumulate wealth?

Yes of course — “beggar they neighbor” has been a demonstrated propensity of both systems. I think the interesting part of the question is why this has been the case, so I’ll take a crack at that….

Basically I think this is a consequence of moral immaturity among the cultures that developed mercantilism and capitalism, and the subsequent creation of systems, cultural norms and institutions that have reinforced this moral immaturity, and kept people (and whole cultures) from “growing up.”

Now this is a very difficult topic for folks who are immersed in a “greed is good” culture, and have really never known anything else. It’s the fish-not-comprehending-the-ocean sort of situation — everyone is swimming in it and breathing it and very seldom really stepping back to consider the depravity of the situation. And there is also a lot of “pro-greed” propaganda to content with as well.

But it is possible to wake up to what is really going on…and how really, really bad it is for the human species in terms of future survival. We can only hope that enough folks will wake up soon enough to start turning the Titanic in a more positive and sustainable direction.

My 2 cents.

Anarchism: How would an anarchist society defend itself against externalities and foreign military invasion?

One reason that many anarchist cooperatives have not survived all that long throughout history has been because their emphasis — for the most part — was on peaceful cooperation, rather than aggressive military build-up. Until the rest of the globe catches up in terms of moral maturity, anarchist experiments are going to be subject to external aggression — especially if they have control over desirable resources, or are a perceived threat to established hegemony. So I think civic conditions have to evolve a bit all around the world for anarchism to work well. That said, it is conceivable that technological advances will provide superagency to smaller and smaller groups, so that a relatively tiny anarchist cooperative could say “Hey, if you invade us, we’ll unleash X technology to decimate your troops…” or some such, providing the leverage needed to achieve detente. Really, any military spending in the context of a “mentally healthy” world will come to be viewed as silliness, and when self-governance through direct democracy along with relaxation of the profit motive (and transition of private ownership back to the commons) remove the incentives and pathways for despots, tyrants, megalomaniacs and psychopaths to rise to power as they do today, there likely won’t be as much need to arm up. That, at least, would be my hope. :-)

My 2 cents.

What are some situations in which a free market fails?

There are many different type of market failure, so there are also many different situational causes. For example:

1. Price-inelastic demand eventually leads to efficiency failures — which is why many goods subject to long-term price-inelastic demand end up being heavily regulated and/or socialized.

2. Rampant speculation has led to market failures through cycles of overvaluation, undiversified concentrations of capital, over-extended leveraging, and subsequent collapse…and to overly abstracted and complex instruments that “game the system” (the post-financialized system, that is) and perpetuate this cycle. This leads to greater debt burdens, bailouts, knee jerk regulations, and tanking of economic activity (constriction of credit and capital flows, etc.).

3. Negative externalities create market failures with the costs catch up with production and are finally accounted for — often because the externalities end up being situationally imposed, widespread and inescapable across entire markets (regardless of regulatory reactions, legal actions, product boycotts, etc., which also interrupt market allocations).

4. Resource depletion is a pretty common contributor to market failure.

5. Runaway rent-seeking also consistently leads to market failures because the market was excluded from the get-go.

6. Monopolies (whether naturally occurring or as a consequence of crony capitalism) are probably the single greatest contributors to longer-term market failure.

7. Unattended markets (i.e. unregulated markets) nearly always fail — there are only a handful of exceptions to this in recorded history.

There are more situations, but those are some of the ones worth researching carefully to understand why markets to fail in various ways. Pareto efficiency is a useful standard to evaluate failure, but there are many other metrics that help us evaluate when a market isn’t working as intended.

My 2 cents.

Can spiritual awakening lead to success in business?

Maybe sometimes, at which point most of that person’s awakening will dissipate or retreat, mainly because of the demands of our current political economy and business culture. In other words, success in business generally leads to spiritual regression.

It is a bit like asking: “Will my spiritual awakening make me a better salesman?”

Well, let’s take that example. Awakening generally leads to greater compassion for self and others, more insight into skillful healing and wholeness, and less attachment to material possessions and ego accomplishments. So how would an “awakened” salesman act? They probably would try to help people — to do what is authentically best for their customers, without considering their own self-enrichment. Consider these scenarios:

“Is this a good TV?”

“Well, not really, but it’s the only one we have in stock.”

or

“Can your alternative therapy heal my cancer?”

“Actually no. You are going to die. But I can be a compassionate presence for you as you die….”

And so on. If what is genuinely beneficial to a customer just happens to coincide with what a business has to offer, then there is a possibility of awakening facilitating temporary success. Otherwise, it just runs counter to capitalist instincts.

You see the problem? Being a kind, compassionate, insightful and healing presence can bless others with well-being and skillful aid…but it doesn’t fit into the better bottom line landscape very well. Add to this that most people really don’t know how to handle affluence and material success without becoming corrupted by it (see Paul Piff’s research on this), and tying business acumen to spiritual awakening is sort of a fundamentally unwise idea.

My 2 cents.

What do economists think of Karl Polanyi's book "The Great Transformation"?

I suspect that would depend on the economist’s ideological orientation. I’m sure progressively-minded economists are aware of the work as a potent counter-argument to classical liberalism, and to its importance in expanding economics into a much broader interdisciplinary concern. Neoliberals probably hate it, as it slaughters most of their sacred cows.

What's your favorite economic principle?

I’ll offer my top four:

1. Price-elasticity of Demand — And, specifically, inelasticity in this context. For me, this has been a very useful tool in determining which goods and services naturally belong in which L7 Enterprise Schema (http://level-7.org/Solutions/Enterprise/) — and which of those can reside within the Universal Social Backbone — in my Level 7 proposals.

2. Externality — The vast expanse of hidden costs that *should *inform any economic policy, strategy, tactic, etc.

3. Animal Spirits — Keynes revivification of this concept should be a potent reminder of the nonrational impulses that actually drive and shape nearly all economic activity and trends.

4. Pareto Efficiency — The starting point that led me to develop L7 Egalitarian Efficiency (http://level-7.org/Philosophy/Egal-Effic/).

My 2 cents.

From https://www.quora.com/Whats-your-favorite-economic-principle/answer/T-Collins-Logan

Did Locke and other classical liberals ground their theories in religious principles?

I would say that the primary influence on later classical liberals were earlier folks who grounded much of their thinking in religious principles. The philosophies of Locke, Hobbes, Paine, Smith, Price, Mill, Malthus, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Tucker, Paley and countless other influences on classical liberalism were profoundly anchored in Christian/Deist/monotheist religious convictions — albeit convictions that were moderated (or expanded, as the case may be) by the empiricism, humanism and rationalism of the Enlightenment. There are notable exceptions, of course, such as Hume and possibly Mandeville — who were nevertheless reacting to mainstream religion in much of their thinking, and so still shaped by it — but by-and-large the inspiration for classical liberalism can be traced to Christian philosophy and Deist/monotheistic sentiments. At the same time, we can also say that many, if not most of these thinkers railed against the institutional conformism and organized religion of their times. In this light, there is a certain irony that the evolutions and descendants of classical liberalism itself have become so pronounced in their essentially anti-Christian, greed-centric, hyper-individualistic ethos.

My 2 cents.

From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/Did-Locke-and-other-classical-liberals-ground-their-theories-in-religious-principles/answer/T-Collins-Logan

The Problem of Virtual Causality: Superagency, Cognitive Errors, and the Nature of Good and Evil



(Special thanks to Petyr Cirino, whose thoughtful exchanges with me inspired this particular essay.)


As daily events around the world illustrate, we have unquestionably arrived at the age of human superagency — in terms of both positive and negative impacts. On smaller scales of individuals and groups, there are the negative impacts of mass shootings, suicide bombers, toxic waste leaks, chemical plant explosions, contamination of water supplies with heavy metals, contamination of local food chains with pathogens or harmful chemicals, and other disruptions of limited scope. And of course the positive side of this local superagency includes the complex interdependent systems and services that support burgeoning municipalities and allow them to thrive. So in both constructive and destructive ways, we can easily see how complexity, technology and superagency are linked. On the national and global scale, a more collective superagency manifests on the one hand as disruption of everything from infrastructure and commerce to news and elections by a small group of dedicated hackers or activists, to the accelerating extinction of well-established species all around the planet as a consequence of human activities, to the radioactive contamination of vast swathes of air and water after a nuclear power plant meltdown, to the extreme temperatures and chaotic weather patterns resulting from over a century of human industry. On the positive side, humanity has been able to extract and distribute limited resources far and wide on a global scale, linked and negotiated disparate cultures and language around the planet to the benefit of many, and generated and shared huge amounts of knowledge and information to an impressive degree. At these larger scales, complexity and technology are also intimately entangled with superagency, but such impacts seem to depend more on the collective habits and influence of huge populations than on individuals or groups. Ultimately, it seems to have been the aggregate of individual, group and global population impacts that constitute a tipping point for the blossoming of human superagency on planet Earth.

But why does this matter?

One conventional answer is that this matters because our superagency has far outpaced our moral maturity; that is, our ability to manage superagency at any level — individually, tribally or globally — in a consistently beneficial or even sane fashion. Of course this is not a new observation: social critics, philosophers, prophets and artists throughout history have often observed that humanity is not very gifted at managing our own creative, acquisitive or political prowess; from the myths of Icarus and Midas, to the admonitions of Aristotle and Solomon, to tales of Frankenstein and Godzilla, the cautionary narratives of precipitous greed, clever invention and unabashed hubris have remained virtually unbroken across the span of human civilization. But should this perennial caution be our primary concern? Don't civil society, advancing education, widespread democracy and rigorous science mitigate the misuse or overreach of personal and collective power? Don't such institutions in fact provide a bulwark against an immature or degraded morality's ability to misuse humanity's greatest innovations and accomplishments? Aren't these the very failsafes intended to insulate society from its most irrational and destructive impulses...?

First, I would attempt to answer such questions by observing that moral maturity — along with all the societal institutions created to maintain and protect it — has been aggressively undermined by capitalist enterprise to an astonishing degree: via the infantilization and isolation of consumers, the substitution of internal creative and interpersonal riches with external commodities, the glorification of both greed and material accumulation, and the careful engineering of our addiction to comfort. But these concerns are the focus of much of my other writing (see The Case Against Capitalism), not to mention the more deft and compelling writings of countless others, so I won't dwell on them here. Instead, I would turn some attention to what is perhaps an even more pernicious tendency in human affairs, one that has persisted for just as long as all these other degrading impulses and influences. Yes, in a globally collective sense, our moral maturity and capacity for positive moral creativity has seemingly regressed or stagnated even as our superagency has increased — and yes, capitalism is largely to blame for the most recent downward spirals. But there is something more basic and instrumental in our psyche that energizes greed, hubris, arrogance and reckless destruction...something fundamental to our being that needs to be called out. Something that, by any measure, reliably contributes to all sorts of evildoing.

And of course attempts to explain the nature of evil are also not new. Many have attempted to ferret out the source of our darkest impulses, accrediting them to supernatural beings — Aite, Eris, Angra Mainyu, Satan, demons and mazzikim, bhoot and Pishacha, etc.— or describing it in terms of psychological phenomena like selfish compulsions and egotism, death drives (Todestriebe), maladaptive behaviors, severe mental disorders, and so forth. But identifying a more accurate underlying causal pattern will, I think, require a departure from these traditional frameworks. Instead, perhaps we can evaluate a series of straightforward cognitive errors that supportively interconnect, amplify and then calcify over time to create a specific, deleterious and measurable impact on both human interiority and society. Perhaps "evil" can, on some basic level, be defined as a simple cognitive mistake, and "good" as the correction of that mental error.

A Corrosive Troika Defined

With respect to causality, there appear to be three consistent factors that continually surface across the vast terrain of human affairs:

1. Misattribution of causation (as an unintentional mistake or conditioned response)

2. Intentional masking of causation (as deliberate and targeted distortions that reinforce misattribution); and

3. Willful forcing of causation (designed to support and reinforce deliberate distortions)


Together these create a virtual causality — that is, causality that is almost completely disconnected or substantially insulated from reality, while still imitating certain believable elements of the real world amid elaborate rationalizations. It is this pretend causality that entices a willing suspension of disbelief — for those who are vulnerable, coerced, deceived or conformist — that perpetuates self-insulation and additional supportive distortions. So let's take a careful look at each of these components, in order to appreciate just how instrumental they are in everything human beings think, feel and do, and how the modern age is shaping them.


I. Misattribution

Humans make this cognitive mistake so often it seems almost ridiculous to point it out: we blame the wrong culprit for our problems, and consequently pursue the wrong solutions to fix them. Add some additional, deleterious unintended consequences to these kinds of mistakes, and the resulting conditions could easily be described as "what leads to much suffering in the world;" that is, what has perpetuated much of the destruction, unhappiness, suffering, pain and annihilation throughout human history. The dangers of misattributed causation are identified in many if not most wisdom traditions — we can discern this in admonitions about judging others to quickly, gossiping about our suspicions, bearing false witness, words spoken in anger, living by the sword, throwing the first stone, revenge, showy public worship, etc., along with repeated encouragement to forgive without conditions, be patient and longsuffering, generous and caring, humble and trusting. Such concerns are certainly echoed in more recent empirical and rationalist approaches to both knowledge and socially constructive behaviors as well; for example, research in psychology around the misattribution of arousal to incorrect stimuli, or the application of the scientific method in understanding and resolving complex empirical challenges. But sometimes the obvious and longstanding begs restating, so we'll briefly address it here.

Let's consider a few relatively neutral examples, then drill down to a few more compelling, nuanced and disturbing details. For example, most reasonably perceptive adults might agree from their own direct observations, fairly straightforward and simplistic reasoning, or trusted sources of learning that:

1. Sunlight warms the Earth.

2. Submerging crusty pots and pans in water for a time makes them easier to clean.

3. Regularly and violently beating a domesticated animal will eventually induce behavioral problems in that animal.

4. A sedentary lifestyle, devoid of exercise and full of rich foods, will lead to chronic health problems.

5. Smiling at people with genuine openness and affection generally encourages openness and a positive emotional response in return.

6. A heavy object dropped from the second floor of a building onto someone's head is likely to kill them.

7. Really awful things happen to perfectly decent, undeserving people with some regularity.

8. Choosing "the easy way out" of a given situation — that is, a choice that seeks to fortify personal comfort or avoids personal accountability — is often much less fruitful or constructive in the long run than making a harder, more uncomfortable choice that embraces personal responsibility.


There are probably hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of such causal chains that most people have internalized and rely upon to navigate their day-to-day lives. We may not always be consistent in our reasoning and application of them, and there are often exceptions or special conditions that moderate the efficacy of our causal predictions, but on-the-whole we usually learn over time which causal attributions are correct, and which are mistaken. That is...unless something interrupts that learning process.

And this is where I feel the discussion becomes interesting. For it is my contention that many characteristics of modern society not only disrupt our ability to learn and predict accurate causal relationships, but actually encourage distortions and misattributions. How? Here again we will see how complexity, technology, and superagency strongly facilitate the disconnect...but also that we can add isolation and specialization to the mix as well. If, over the course childhood, my entire reference set for understanding causal relationships is defined by television and video games, and I have never thoroughly tested any of the assumptions inculcated through those media, how will I ever escape their fictional depictions? At around age eight or nine, I myself attempted to duplicate some of the crazy stunts Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner performed in Warner Brothers cartoons. I quickly learned that gravity, momentum, inertia, the velocity of falling objects, and host of other principles of physics were grossly misrepresented in those TV shows. I also learned that I did not recover from serious injury nearly as quickly as Wily Coyote did. But what if I hadn't learned any of this through experience? What I had always been insulated from real-world testing and consequences? What if I kept assuming that the fiction I was being shown for entertainment was the actual truth...?

I find this a handy metaphor for modern society, because, throughout most early stages of development, human beings can now remain completely insulated from experiences that shape our understanding of actual causality. Over the years I have witnessed young people trying to ride a horse, play an instrument, write a story, draw a picture, shoot a gun, drive a car, run a race, play a sport, build a tree house, use martial arts...and a host of other activities or skills...simply by imitating what they saw in a movie, played in a video game, or read in a book. And of course that doesn't work — because they do not understand the subtleties of the causal relationships involved. This is what competently learning a skill most often represents: appreciating all of the causal relationships that influence a given outcome, and practicing each one in turn until they are mastered individually and conjointly. What application of force, in which direction, using which tool at which angle and with what kind of finesse, results in unscrewing a rusty bolt on an old bicycle? Knowing the answers to all the steps in a causal chain, especially through personal experience, is what most reliably produces predictive efficacy over time. But if I've never actually ridden a horse, or hiked a mountain, or slaughtered a chicken, or grown food in a garden, or learned to shoot a bow and arrow, or installed a fence, or built a house, or felled a tree, or any number of other activities that might have been the common experience of folks a mere generation or two ago, how can I presume to know how the world around me really works, or how to accomplish the simplest tasks without the aid of technology, advanced tools or specialized workers on which most of the developed world has now come to rely?

Well I can't, and no amount of assistance from my iPad, smartphone or virtual assistant is going to help me develop a felt, somatic-intuitive understanding of basic causal principles — let alone more complex causal chains. I will remain blissfully ignorant of how things work. However, these same technologies also provide an ever-advancing level of virtual pseudoagency — by turning home appliances on or off, monitoring a child's activities, video conferencing with coworkers, ordering groceries to be delivered, recording a threatening phone call, troubleshooting a vehicle's error codes, managing finances, donating to a charity or political campaign, signing a petition, etc. — so that I begin to believe that I really have no need to grasp those causal principles. In fact, the increasing scope of that virtual pseudoagency begins to feel a lot like superagency itself, even though the only causal relationship I am required to maintain is the one with my iPad, smartphone or virtual assistant. Here again, complexity, technology, superagency, isolation and specialization conspire to support my entanglement with virtual causality. And if I confine myself to the same routines, the same environments, the same social groups and virtual communities, the same homogenous culture and mass media...it is possible for me to remain disconnected and insulated from authentic causality for my entire life. So, just hold that thought if you will.....

Let's now examine a second set of causal relationships that are a bit more abstracted from direct experience, rely on more complex reasoning, or encourage us to develop greater trust in authoritative sources of information:

1. Human industry has been accelerating the warming of the planet to levels that will likely destabilize human civilization, and eventually endanger all other life on Earth.

2. Travelling through space at velocities approaching the speed of light slows down time for the traveller relative to the space being travelled through.

3. Gun ownership may make people feel safer, but as a statistical reality it places them at much higher risk of being shot themselves.

4. One of the best ways to mitigate the most pernicious negative impacts of drug addiction on individuals and society is to legalize, tax and regulate drugs, and then allow them to be administered in a controlled environment with medical oversight, and by folks who are also trained in providing treatment and resources to anyone who is willing and able to overcome their addiction.

5. Quantum entanglement (what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance") indicates an immediate relationship between particles over vast distances, potentially negating the speed of light as a limiting factor of data transmission.

6. Educating people from an early age about safe sex, family planning and child rearing, and allowing them easy, affordable access to reproductive healthcare and choices, is one of the most effective ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies, teen pregnancies and abortions.

7. Corporate monopolies can often be much more inefficient, coercive, exploitative and corrosive to civil society and individual well-being than the bureaucratic or cumbersome institutions of democratically elected governments.

8. Educating and empowering women to become more economically self-sufficient, and more intellectually and emotionally self-directed, is likely the single most effective means of raising a culture out of poverty, slowing overpopulation, and strengthening local civil society over a short period of time.


Now you will notice that this second set of causal relationships has some notable differences from the first set. Each statement has required more words for an accurate description, for example, and a deeper and broader contextualization. The causality being described can also be much larger in scope, and causal chains much more subtle, abstract or tenuous. And even as these relationships are increasingly distanced from direct experience and observation, they also tend to involve more complexity and interdependency, making them that much more difficult to grasp. Still, any reasonable person who has carefully and thoroughly educated themselves about each of these issues will eventually acquire a justifiable level of confidence in the stated conclusions, because, with sufficient attention, diligence and effort, the causal relationships actually become just as obvious as the ones in the first set.

But wait....let's return to the problem of lacking experiential (felt, somatic-intuitive) understanding about the real world. As very few people will have the chance to experience any of the causal relationships in the second set in a subjective, firsthand way, an additional challenge is created: we will then often be forced to rely on the few people who have the specialized knowledge, expertise and experience to educate us about these causal relationships. And we will need to be able to trust their judgment — and often their exclusive agency — at least to some degree, even though we may not fully comprehend what they are describing in a fully multidimensional way. And, as we shall see, this whole enterprise is subject to a host of additional influences and caveats, so that we may once again find ourselves relying on our iPad, smartphone or virtual agent to support our understanding. Once again our technology, isolation, specialization, superagency and complexity conspire to add more distance and effort to clear or accurate causal comprehensions. Now consider the accelerating complexity of every gadget, tool and system upon which we rely to navigate the complexity of our world to levels beyond our basic knowledge, and the distance increases further still. And as we anticipate the imminent expansion of virtual reality technology itself into more and more areas of our lives, we can begin to imagine just how disconnected human beings will inevitably become — from each other, from themselves, and from the causal workings of the world.

With this is mind, for many people there is also a pronounced gap of doubt between these two sets of causal relationships, with the second set seeming much more tentative, conditional or questionable. For these skeptics, it often will not matter how much evidence is presented in support of any given conclusion...especially if that conclusion contradicts their values system, or challenges certain fundamental assumptions they hold about the world, or is perceived to undermine their preferred information authorities, or pokes and prods at their sense of identity or place in society. Given the choice, the skeptic may instead opt for tolerating higher and higher levels of cognitive dissonance. Of course, the highest level of understanding about these topics may again just be armchair expertise, with no real-world experience to back it up. In such cases, it might seem easy to attribute what are essentially irrational or ill-informed doubts about complex but verifiable attributions of causation to ignorance alone — or to cognitive bias, the Dunning-Kruger effect, tribal groupthink, being intimidated by complexity, ideological brainwashing and manipulation, abject stupidity, or some other equally dismissive explanation. In fact I have made this judgmental error myself, often amid roiling frustration that someone really seems to believe that, to paraphrase Asimov, their ignorance is "just as good as" rigorous investigation and knowledge.

But this has been, I now suspect, a glaringly lazy oversimplification; itself yet another misattribution of causation. Instead, what I now believe is actually happening is something much more intricate, and much more intriguing.


II. Masking

There are plentiful reasons why an individual or group might be strongly motivated to persuade themselves or coerce others into believing that one thing is responsible for certain outcomes, when it is really something else entirely. Consider such real-world conditions as:

1. I want to sell you something that you don't really want or need, and in order to part you from your money, I fabricate causal relationships to facilitate that end. For example, claiming that if you purchase a certain supplement, you won't need to exercise or change your diet to lose weight. Or that if you make a given long-term investment, you will be able to retire from your job decades earlier than you would otherwise. Or that if you trust in the products, services or advice I am selling you, you will achieve happiness, romance, social status, or a desirable level of financial success. And so on. This is perhaps the most pervasive example of intentional causal masking and deliberate deception — except of course when the salesperson (or friend, or coworker, or public official, etc.) may actually believe that the causal relationship is real, in which case they were just hoodwinked into complicity.

2. I am confused, fearful, insecure and frustrated by an increasingly complex and incomprehensible world — a world in which my identity is uncertain, my role in society is uncertain, my existential purpose has come into question, and I am simply unable to navigate the complexity around me with any self-assurance that I have any real agency or efficacy. I am also feeling increasingly lonely, isolated and disenfranchised by fast-paced, constantly changing urbanization and leapfrogging technologies, in combination with the pressure-cooker-effect of burgeoning population density. I feel I am in desperate competition — for both resources and achieving any personal value to society — with everything and everyone around me...and I feel that I am losing that race. So I latch onto a group, belief or ideology that helps relieve the panic, and inherent to that process is my masking away the actual causes of my existential pain and suffering, and investing in much simpler (but inaccurate) causal relationships through which I can imagine that I have more influence or control. And thus I may join a religious group, or political party, or online community, and actively surrender my own critical reasoning capacity in favor of comforting groupthink or ingroup/outgroup self-justifications.

3. Some impactful life experience or insight has inspired a reframing of all of my consequent observations and experiences according to a new paradigm — a paradigm that radically departs from previous assumptions, and applies a new filter for causation across all interactions and explanations. For example, after surviving a brutally violent event, I feel the need to protect myself and everyone I care about with elaborate and oppressive safety rules, rigid communication protocols, expensive security technology, and a host of lethal weapons. After my experiences, I simply view all interactions and situations as potentially dangerous and requiring a high degree of vigilance and suspicion. In my revised worldview, everything and everyone has become a potential threat, and I must always be prepared for the worst possible outcome. In this way I have masked all causal relationships with potential calamity and catastrophe — and actively persuade others to do the same. In this sense, I have become conditioned to partial reinforcement — similarly to a gambler who wins intermittently, or a mouse who receives a chunk of cheese at arbitrary intervals for pushing on a button in his cage; whether that partial reinforcement invoked positive or negative consequences, I will insist on maintaining masked causation in order to prop up my compulsions.

4. I have made an error in judgment tied to investment of emotions or efforts, which was then followed by other errors required to support that initial error in judgment, until a long series of decisions and continued investment has created its own momentum and gravitational mass, and now seems an inescapable trajectory for my life and my identity. Perhaps I became invested in some logical fallacy or bias (confirmation bias, appeal to authority or tradition, slippery slope fallacy, vacuous truths, courtesy bias, hot-hand fallacy, etc. — see more at Wikipedia), or initially overestimated my own knowledge or competence in some area, or trusted the advice of some cherished mentor, or took on some tremendous risk or commitment I didn't fully understand, or simply fell into a counterproductive habit that initially seemed acceptable...but has led me down an ever-darkening road. Whatever the case, I now find myself rationalizing each new decision in support of a long chain of mistaken judgments, and must of necessity consciously or unconsciously mask all causal relationships to protect my own ego or self-concept.

Regardless of the impetus, once this masking process begins, it can rapidly become self-perpetuating, a runaway train of misinformation and propaganda that eventually acquires institutional structures like rigidity, bureaucratic legalism, self-protective fervor, a dearth of self-awareness, and so on. In fact, potent beliefs and indeed entire ideologies have sprung forth from such synthesis, to then be aggressively propagated by adherents, with all provable causes forcefully rejected in favor of fabrications that conform to the new, hurriedly institutionalized worldview.

Recalling the two sets of causal relationships mentioned previously, our modern context of isolation, complexity, technology, specialization and superagency certainly seems to lend itself to both the masking process and its runaway propagation and institutionalization. It has become much easier, in other words, to mask the second set of seemingly more abstracted and complex causal relationships — or to invoke vast clouds of hazy interdependencies in either set —so that causation can be craftily shaped into an occluded, subjective miasma of "alternative facts." And although deities, fate, synchronicity, mischievous spirits and superstitious agency may still be credited with many bewildering events, there is now an industrial strength, global communications network that can instantly shape and amplify false explanations for a wide array of phenomena. Via social media, troll farms, sensational journalism, conspiracy theorists, pedantic talk-show hosts and the like, we have a well-established, widely trusted platform to breed outrageous distortions of the truth. And we can easily discern — from the consistency of the distortions over time, and by whom and what they vilify — that the primary aim of nearly all such efforts is to mask the actual causes of countless economic, social, political and moral problems, and redirect the attentions and ire of loyal audiences to oversimplified explanations, straw man arguments, and xenophobic scapegoats. It is professional-grade masking at its finest.

That said, in the age of instant information access and pervasive mass media aggregation and dissemination, I would contend it has now become critical for these propaganda engines to excel beyond spinning evidence or cherry-picking supportive data, and to begin engineering events that align with a given narrative in order to secure enduring conformance. In other words, to reach past merely masking causation into the realm of actually reshaping it. This is what the deliberate, willful forcing of causation seeks to accomplish, and why extraordinary amounts of effort and resources — at least equivalent to those being expended on causal masking itself — have been spent in its pursuit.


III. Forcing

Willful forcing in this context is primarily about the intentional, frequently sustained manufacturing of causal evidence. For example, lets say I am seething with jealousy over a coworker's accomplishments, and I am filled with a petty lust to sabotage them. At first, I might attempt to mask the cause of their success with malicious gossip: what they did wasn't all that great, or they must have cheated along the way, or the boss was favoring them with special help, or the coworker must have been performing favors for others to achieve such results. But if masking the actual cause of their success (that is, their credible competence, talent, hard work, etc.) isn't having sufficient effect, and I am still raging with vindictive spite, well then perhaps arranging some fake proof of my coworker's faults or failures will do the trick. Perhaps leaking a confidential memo from human resources about accusations of sexual misconduct? Or feeding them subtly incorrect data on their next project? Or maybe promising them cooperation and assistance in private, then denying it in public when it sabotages their efforts? If I keep at this long enough, I just might induce some real failures and shatter the "illusion" of my coworkers success. This is what willful forcing looks like, and is sort of connivance we might expect from TV dramas. But nobody really does this in the real world...right?

Unfortunately, it happens all the time — and increasingly on larger and larger scales as facilitated by the global reach of technology, capitalism, media and culture. We've seen such tactics used in the take-downs of political leaders, in the character assassinations of journalists and celebrities, in carefully orchestrated attacks on government and corporate whistleblowers, in how various activist movements are dismissively characterized in mass media, and in the billions spent to turn public opinion against beneficial public policies and legislation that might undermine established wielders of power. But is any of this "forcing" creating a causal relationship that wasn't already there...? Well, as one example, if reports of what happened during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election are accurate, then forcing did occur, via DNC efforts that deliberately undermined Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton; Republican state legislatures that deliberately suppressed Democratic voters with voter ID laws, restricted polling times and places, and other such tactics; and Russian hackers that aimed to alienate Blue Dog Democrats and independent voters away from voting for Hillary Clinton. Assertions that any individual or party who appeared to be leading in the polls actually did not have enough votes to win was...well...carefully engineered to be true. This is what causal forcing looks like on a larger scale.

In a more sustained forcing effort over a longer period, the Affordable Care Act has also become a particularly potent example. In this case, there was a pronounced lack of initial cooperation from conservative state legislatures, relentless and well-funded anti-Obamacare propaganda to maintain negative sentiments across the electorate, and dozens of efforts in the U.S. House and Senate to repeal the ACA itself — all of which has now been followed by the even more deliberate defunding and insurance market destabilizing efforts from the Trump administration via executive action (eliminating ACA cost-sharing subsidies, etc.). And all of this contributed to fulfilling the causal masking that was broadcast from those opposed to government oversight of U.S. healthcare — during the ACA's creation and passage, and every day since then. In other words, years of carefully planned and executed sabotage have been forcing the invented causality of claims like "Obamacare is a total failure and will collapse on its own" to become true.

It isn't always necessary to force causal relationships, of course, to maintain lockstep conformance. There are plentiful examples in politics of people continuing to vote for a candidate or party who never fulfills any campaign promises...ever. But we must remember that masking — and all individual and collective investment in masking — only requires partial reinforcement from observations and experience, an ongoing emotional investment, a blindness to our own hypocrisy or groupthink, and a conditioned receptivity to deceptive salesmanship. So as long as there is occasional proof that some authority we trust got something right, or some attitude we hold is justifiable, or the ideology we have chosen will still offer us acceptance and community, or the rabbit hole we've ventured down with an endless chain of bad choices has few or delayed palpable consequences...well, then those who wish to influence the masses only need to effectively force causation in the rare now-and-again.

Still, I would contend that a consistent pattern of fabrication has been emerging over many decades now: first misattribution, then masking, then forcing, all eventually leading to calamity and ruin in human relations and civil society — and disruption of our relationships with everything around us — thereby generating a closed loop of virtual causality. But in case these assertions seem contrived, let's take a closer look at additional real-world examples.


Virtual Causality in Action


Initially, I considered using "trifecta" to describe this particular trio of causal entanglements, because the motivations behind it appear to be all about winning; that is, it is employed primarily to shape a status quo that either directly benefits those who crave more power, influence or social and material capital, or directly injures or oppresses anyone interfering with that desired status quo. Thus the troika often becomes the trophy, the prize-in-itself, as its inventions and propagation become emblematic of such self-serving success — in other words, a trifecta. But really, this need not be the specific intent behind causal distortions; in fact I would say that the virtual causality troika is unwaveringly damaging in human affairs, regardless of its intent. Let's examine some evidence for this....

If out of fear, discomfort, confusion, ignorance or social conformance I begin to misattribute homosexuality to a personal choice — rather than the innate, genetic structures and proclivities, which are almost certainly the reality for most gay people — and then link that assertion to tribal groupthink and an appeal to my favorite authorities, an almost effortless next step is intentionally or reflexively masking the actual causality with my own preferred beliefs. That mask may be projected into many shapes: perhaps an unhealthy or perverse interest was encouraged in a person's youth that led them to "choose" being gay; or perhaps they were sexually abused by a parent, older sibling or family friend; or maybe there are emotional, social or cognitive impairments that have led them to fear the opposite sex; and so on. There can be quite elaborate masking narratives if the need for self-justifying beliefs is strong enough. From there, perhaps because the misattribution itself is so heartbreakingly mistaken, there is a corresponding urge to force the desired, invented causation. Which leads me to author studies that "prove" early sexualization of children and/or permissive parenting somehow encourages sexual deviance, promiscuity or gender instability; or to engineer "gay deprogramming" efforts that "prove" gay people can become straight; or creating dogmatic propaganda that authentic marriage can only be between "a man and a woman," that gay parents can never be allowed to adopt children because it is "unnatural," that gay people can't hold jobs where they could potentially "corrupt" children, and other such constructions that create an environment where gay people are in some way prevented from becoming successful and happy in their relationships, families, and jobs — and indeed their overall integration in society — thus adding to my "proof" that being gay is not natural, healthy or wise. And this is how misattribution easily leads to masking, which then begs the reinforcement of forcing.

So in such a potent and seemingly enduring real-world example, the deleterious effects seem closely tied to fearful and dismissive intent. But what about the other end of the spectrum? Consider the beliefs of many people in modern culture regarding the desirability of wealth, and in particular the necessity of commercialistic capitalism to create a thriving and happy lifestyle for everyone. Much of the time, this isn't a nefarious or malevolent intent — folks may actually believe that everyone aggressively competing with each other for more and more wealth is "a good thing," and, further, that such pursuits are morally neutral; in other words, permissive of an "anything goes" mentality with regard to wealth creation. And if I truly embrace this belief, I will tend to mask my own observations about the world, about history and economics, about social movements, about government and everything else in accordance with that belief. In my unconsciously reflexive confirmation bias, I will only recognize arguments and evidence that seem to support my beliefs. That is, I will mask the actual causality behind events and data that embody my preferred causality, assiduously avoiding empirical research that debunks the travesty of "trickle down" economics, or that proves most conceptions of the Laffer curve to be laughable.

Then, because my beliefs are not really supported by careful analysis of available evidence — and are in fact thoroughly contradicted by a preponderance of data — I will eventually go beyond seeking out research, media and authorities that amplify my preferred causation, and begin to force that causation in my own life, the lives of those I can personally influence, and via my political leanings and spending habits. On a collective scale, I will vote to have judges appointed who favor corporations in their rulings, or for legislators who create tax breaks for the wealthy, or for Presidents who promise to remove regulatory barriers to corporate profits. On a personal level, I will explode my own debt burden in order to appear more affluent, and constantly and conspicuously consume to prop up growth-dependent markets. And, on a global level, I will advocate neoliberal policies that exploit cheap labor and resources in developing countries, and the ruination of my planet and all its species of plant and animal, in service to the very few who are exponentially increasing their personal fortunes. In these ways, I can help generate short-term surges of narrowly distributed prosperity that do indeed reward those who have already amassed significant wealth, and who will vociferously confirm that everyone else in society is benefitting as well...even when they are not.

In this second example, there can be a truly optimistic and benevolent intent in play — a person may really believe their misattribution, masking and forcing will have a positive impact. But the results of the disconnect between actual causality and invented causation still wreaks the same havoc on the world. For in this case we know that it is not wealth alone — operating in some sort of market fundamentalist vacuum — that lifts people out of poverty or liberates them from oppressive conditions. It is civil society, education, democracy, accessible healthcare, equal rights protected by the rule of law, the grateful and diligent civic engagement by responsible citizens, and much more; this cultural context is absolutely necessary to enable freedoms and foster enjoyment of the fruits of our labor. Without a substantive and enduring matrix of these complex and interdependent factors, history has shown without exception that wealth production alone results in callous and brutal enslavement of everyone and everything to its own ends, so that to whatever extent we fuel our greed, we fuel destruction of our society and well-being to the same degree.

Here again we can recognize that isolation, complexity, technology, specialization and superagency tend to obscure causality even as they amplify our ability to mask or force causal relationships. So on the one hand, it is more difficult to tease out cause-and-effect in complex, technologically dependent economic systems, but, once certain key effectors are identified, human superagency then makes it much easier to manipulate temporary outcomes or perceptions of longer-term outcomes. And this is precisely why the troika we've identified can maintain the appearance of victory within many dominant mediaspheres, noospheres and Zeitgeists — at local, national and global levels. To appreciate these dynamics is to have the veil between what is real and what is being sold as reality completely removed — in this and many other instances. Otherwise, if we cannot remove that veil, we will remain trapped in a spectacle of delusion that perpetuates the greatest suffering for the greatest number for the greatest duration.

As to how pervasive and corrosive virtual causality has become in various arenas of life, that is probably a broader discussion that requires more thorough development. But, more briefly, we can easily observe a growing body of evidence that has widely taken hold in one important arena. Consider the following example and its consequences:

Perceived Problem: Social change is happening too quickly, destabilizing traditional roles and identities across all of society, and specifically challenging assumptions about the "rightful, superior position" of men over women, white people over people of color, adults over children, humans over Nature, and wealthy people over the poor.

Actual Causes: Liberalization of culture, education, automation, economic mobility and democratization have led to wealthy white men losing their status, position and power in society, so that they feel increasingly vulnerable, insecure and threatened. And while their feelings of entitlement regarding the power they are losing have no morally justifiable basis — other than the arbitrary, serendipitous or engineered advantages of past traditions, institutions and experiences — these wealthy white men have become indignant, enraged and desperate. So, rather than accepting a very reasonable equalization of their status and sharing their power with others, they are aggressively striving to reconstitute a perceived former glory.

Misattributions: Recreational use of illicit drugs, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, lack of parental discipline, immorally indulgent entertainment media, immigrants or races with different values, governmental interference with personal liberty and moral standards, and liberal academic indoctrination have all contributed to the erosion of traditional family values and cohesion, resulting in an unnatural and destructive inversion of power dynamics in society and the easily grasped consequences of interpersonal and group conflict, increases in violent behaviors and crime, and general societal instability.

Causal Masking: Establishing think tanks and funding research that supports these causal misattributions with cherry-picked data; using mass media with a dedicated sympathetic bias to trumpet one-sided propaganda about these same causal misattributions; invoking religious sentiments and language that similarly cherry-pick scriptural and institutional support for sympathetic groupthink and activism; generating cohesive political platforms and well-funded campaigns grounded in these misattributions — and in the dissatisfaction, resentment and anger they evoke; and, via populist rhetoric, generally emboldening prejudice and hate against groups that threaten white male power.

Causal Forcing: The strident dismantling of public education and access to higher education; cancelling or defunding successful government programs; capturing or neutering regulatory agencies; destroying social safety nets; rejecting scientific and statistical consensus in all planning and policy considerations; and engineering economic, social and political environments that favor the resurgence of wealthy white male privilege and influence. In other words, removing any conditions that encourage equitable resource distribution, sharing of social capital, and access to economic opportunity, and restoring as many exclusive advantages as possible for wealthy white men.

Consequences: A renewal of income inequality, race and gender prejudices, lack of economic mobility, and cultural and systemic scapegoating of non-white "outsiders;" pervasive increase in societal instability and potential for both violent crime and institutional violence; mutually antagonistic identity politics and class conflict that amplifies polarization and power differentials; coercive use of force by the State to control the increasing instability; and gradual but inevitable exacerbation of injustice and systemic oppression. Adding superagency, isolation, specialization, complexity and technology to this mixture just amplifies the instability and extremism, increasing the felt impacts of ever-multiplying fascistic constraints and controls. Ultimately all of this results in increasing poverty and strife, and in pervasive deprivations of liberty for all but a select few.


Countering Virtual Causality with a Greater Good


In response to the dilemmas created by the troika we've discussed so far, I 've been aiming to work through some possible solutions for several years now. I began with a personal realization that I had to address deficits in my own well-being, deficits created by years of conforming to toxic cultural expectations about my own masculinity, and the equally destructive path of individualistic economic materialism which I had thoughtlessly followed throughout much of my life. I encountered an initial door to healing through studying various mystical traditions and forms of meditation, which resulted in my books The Vital Mystic and Essential Mysticism. However, I also realized that this dimension was only part of the mix; there were at least a dozen other dimensions of my being that required equal attention and nurturing. As I explored these facets of well-being, I arrived at the Integral Lifework system of transformative practice, my books True Love and Being Well, essays exploring compassionate multidimensional nourishment (see the essays page on this website), and the onset of an Integral Lifework coaching practice.

But something was still missing — something more causally fundamental that was hinted at in my previous experiences — and that is when I expanded my attentions to larger cultural, political and economic concerns. I began writing about the failures of capitalism, the distortions of religion and spirituality in commercialistic societies, the need for more holistic appreciations of liberty and knowledge, and the imperative of constructive moral creativity — offering a handful of what I believed to be fruitful approaches in these areas. Much of this culminated in the book Political Economy and the Unitive Principle, and then in my Level 7.org website, which explore some initial ways out of the mess we have created. Throughout these efforts, I presented what I believed to be some of the central causal factors involved in our current systemic antagonisms and failures, and some proposed next steps to actualize and sustain positive change. Of course what I have outlined in my work is just one way to frame all of these situations and factors, and, regardless of intentions, there will likely be many details and variables yet to be worked through. This is why piloting different participatory, distributed and egalitarian options will be so important in the coming decade. The main point, however, is that, just as so many others have recognized, humanity cannot continue along its present course.

So this essay regarding virtual causality is an extension of this same avenue of considerations and concerns by burrowing through more layers of the onion — just one more piece of the puzzle, one more way to evaluate the current predicament...and perhaps begin navigating our way out of it. It seems to me that recognizing the cognitive distortions behind causal misattribution, masking and forcing are a central consideration for any remedy in the short and long term. These are the specific drivers underlying much of the evil in the world, perpetuating false promises that will only lead us over the cliff of our own demise. And in order to operationalize more constructive, prosocial, compassion-centered values, relationships and institutions on any scale — that is, to counter the corrosive troika and promote the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration — we must address those cognitive distortions head on. We must end the reign of lies, and reinstate a more honest, open and well-reasoned relationship with causality. We must resist the false reality we are being sold, and open our eyes, hearts, spirits and minds to what really is.

How do we do this? Well, my own life's work describes one avenue, through which I advocate specific individual and collective efforts to reverse our downward spiral. But as I cruise around the Internet from day to day, I encounter countless and varied ideas, practices and resources supportive of positive change. Really, the answers are already out there (and within ourselves), just waiting for us to embrace them. All we really need to do to begin this journey is let go of the causal misattributions, masking and forcing that intrinsically fuel our perpetual fear, mistrust, anger and groupthink, and turn instead toward what is verifiably true — as complex, nuanced, ambiguous and counterintuitive as that truth may be. And there are already meaningful efforts along these lines within some disciplines — Freakonomics comes to mind, as do websites like politifact.com, factcheck.org, opensecrets.org, and snopes.com — that model ways to peek through the veil of our mistaken assumptions and beliefs. We just require more of these, across all disciplines and all media, along with open accessibility and the encouragement to seek them out. How hard could this be...? Even the most concerted efforts to deceive, distract and medicate us into conformance with virtual causality will fail, if we stop consuming them.

Lastly there are a handful of feasible personal practices that will help resolve part of this challenge. I discuss them in more detail in my writings on Integral Lifework, but essentially they include reconnecting with aspects of ourselves and our environment that modern life often encourages us to neglect. For example: spending alone time in nature; creating a disciplined habit of meditative introspection; investing regular time and energy in a supportive community that shares our values; shifting how we consciously process our experiences, from fast-paced analytical decision-making, to slower body-centered felt experience, to even slower heart-grounded intelligence; making sure we have space and time in our day for creative self-expression; and additional personal patterns that unplug us from electronic dependencies, naturally attenuate modern compulsions and addictions, and encourage both holistic self-care and compassionate engagement with others. Such practices are a powerful means of revitalizing the innate resilience, intelligence and creativity that millions of years of evolution have gifted our species. By returning to our authentic selves, we can regain an inner compass to help navigate these complicated and often alienating times.

When I was a technical consultant, there was a term for carelessly hurtling forward to keep pace with current technology, implementing the latest trends as soon as they emerged: we called it "riding the bleeding edge." The allusion was deliberate, because new tech could be risky, could fail, and might lack both support and future development. Instead, in my consulting I advocated a different approach: extending legacy systems and future-proofing them, or adding new technology that would integrate with legacy systems (or run in parallel with minimal cost) that offered extensibility for future technology integration — a bridge if you will. There was nothing particularly flashy about what I was doing, but this approach solved some fairly complex challenges, lowered hidden costs (such as retraining staff on new systems, or hiring expertise to support new technologies), and leveraged institutional knowledge and existing technical competencies. In my view, we need to do something similar for modern society, slowing down wide-scale deployment of "bleeding edge" innovation, and revisiting basic legacy components of human interaction and well-being. We need to create a bridge to our future selves that leaves as few people behind as possible, while preparing us for new ways of being and doing.

But our very first step must be to abandon virtual causality altogether, and reconnect with the real world in whatever ways we can.

-------------------------------------

Following up on some feedback I received after initially posting this essay....

Petyr Cirino pointed out that a powerful influence in modern society is our immersion in the 24-hour news cycle, which often results in a strong identification with the same. To be connected at-the-hip with nearly every noteworthy or sensational event around the globe, within minutes or hours of its occurrence, has come to dominate our sense of the world around us, what demands our emotional investment and prioritization from moment-to-moment, and is a determining factor in how we interact with people we know and familiar threads of thinking, how we view the people or thinking we don't know or understand, and how we feel about our lives and ourselves. The deluge of information and "newsworthy" events also tends to distract us from more immediate causality, contributing to an ever-expanding insulation from the real world and the abstraction of our interpersonal connections. Along with other mass media, the 24-hour news cycle consequently helps fuel, shape and sustain the causal troika to an astonishing degree. So it follows that divorcing ourselves from that cycle would be a helpful cofactor in first slowing, then remedying the perpetuation of misattribution, masking and forcing — for ourselves, and in how we amplify the troika in our relationships, social interactions, thinking and learning.

Ray Harris observed that limited cognitive capacity — along with a need to protect that capacity from too much information — may also play a role in evoking and energizing the causal troika. I think this is undoubtedly true, and would include it as a feature or consequence of complexity. Specifically, I think there is a snowball effect where complexity drives specialization, specialization generates insular language and relationships, and insular language and relationships contributes to isolation via homogenous communities and thought fields. These specialized islands barely comprehend each other, let alone regularly dialogue with each other, and cognitive capacity certainly plays a role in this phenomenon. I would also include other aspects of mind that contribute to troika formation, and which are also entangled with complexity, specialization and isolation. For example: how gullible someone is, how disciplined they are in their critical reasoning, how educated they are in general, how tribal their thinking becomes, etc. Addressing these tendencies may also become part of a long-term remedy, but of course there are genetic, dietary, cultural and relational factors involved here as well. It seems that any attempts to manage the troika tendency, or compensate for it in media and communication, would therefore require consideration of a sizable matrix of interdependent factors. Or maybe a majority of humans just need to become smarter, better educated, and learn how to think carefully and critically...? Certainly, we can encourage this through ongoing cultural liberalization — we just need to attenuate the influences of capitalism in order for that liberalization to take its fullest course.





How is fascism created from "capitalism in decline"?

Fascism is created from capitalism in decline via the following mechanisms:

1. Long-term decrease in real wages (i.e. loss of buying power, social status, etc.). Over time, it is inevitable that increased efficiencies, mass production and the search for cheaper labor and natural resources are exhausted — even as profit continues to be maximized at the same time — result in workers receiving less and less in real wages. And that is exactly what has happened in the U.S. since about 1972 — even as GDP and per capita productivity increased during that period, all that wealth went to the wealthiest owner-shareholders, and never “trickled down” to anyone else.

2. Loss of economic mobility. As income inequality expands, economic mobility decreases for the majority of a given population. So while they still are working just as hard (or even harder), the opportunities for advancement or even basic financial security evaporate.

3. Fewer jobs, and lower quality jobs. In order to fuel economic growth, the consumer base must expand as production costs shrink. This creates an ever-widening capture of cheap labor and resources, and an ever-enlarging global marketshare. Jobs must of necessity either be automated or exported away from affluent countries. Innovation can sometimes fill the job gap, but usually only for short periods.

4. A resulting frustration among formerly affluent populations. Factors 1–3 lead to increasing dissatisfaction and frustration among groups that had once held the most political, social and cultural capital. They become increasingly angry that the promise of economic freedoms and opportunities — and the cultural prestige — once afforded them has evaporated. But beyond that, there is real suffering as poverty begins to take root, and especially when yet another “false promise” in the form of increasing and inescapable debt adds fuel to resentments.

5. Xenophobic scapegoating and nationalistic romanticism. Someone has to pay for this loss of status, loss of affluence, and the snowball effect of failed promises. It could be anyone…and “big bad government” is a frequent target…but it is much easier and more concrete to scapegoat a powerless, vulnerable or “foreign” group than to rail agains more abstract institutions. Political scapegoating can, after all, backfire when half of the population is the group being targeted as scapegoats — they can rise up and exercise a dominant political will. But poor immigrants or helpless refugees fleeing violent oppression are much easier to villainize — especially when they are tarred and feathered as “attacking” a proud national heritage. It does not matter that that national heritage is being viewed through rose-colored distortions…only that it is being attacked by “Them.”

My 2 cents.

What does Corporate Social Responsibility in a developed country look like?

A2A. In my experience, there are really five distinct aspects to this topic that are generally considered in formulations and assessments:

1. The intent of CSR for a given organization.

2. Its ideological context of CSR for that organization.

3. The internal and external marketing spin.

4. The efficacy of a given company’s approach (with respect to its intent).

5. The impact of CSR on the bottom line.

Only when all five of these areas are carefully assessed can we know what CSR “looks like” from any perspective. Often only one or two of these areas are examined or emphasized, which is one way to quickly skew data to confirm a preexisting bias. Taken altogether, however, we can begin piecing together the objectives and effects of CSR in a holistic way. What makes this challenging is that, in many instances, the change agents involved (top execs, board members, activist shareholders, etc.) are not entirely transparent about one or more of these components, preferring to engineer outcomes that align with an undisclosed or deliberately clouded agenda. Needless to say, CSR can be used as cover to accomplish many objectives that are not — in any way — socially responsible.

That said, when there is transparency, genuinely prosocial intent and ideology, and a skillful approach, the result can be a measurable offset to negative externalities, an improved work environment for employees, a higher quality product or service for customers, and (potentially) an increase in brand and employee loyalty from those with shared values. However, none of this necessarily facilitates one of the two extremes promoted by proponents or critics: i.e. cumbersome business processes or improved profitability. Once systems, metrics and adjustment strategies are in place, it generally seems to be the case that CSR is not that difficult to implement, but also has little impact on the bottom line one way or the other.

So really, if the intent is genuine, the results can satisfy that intent without having much influence on business at all. Which is interesting, since, if the intent is not genuine and the efforts are superficial, this can actually backfire in a spectacular way once it is disclosed (see factor #3).

My 2 cents.

Was the busting of Standard Oil necessary and or was it already losing control of it's monoply?

I see this question has already received plenty of neoliberal propaganda in response, so I’ll try to balance the scales with some sanity.

Yes, absolutely Standard Oil’s monopoly needed to end. Adam Smith was perhaps the first to write passionately about the dangers of monopoly, and Standard Oil’s 90% marketshare could have been a poster child for Smith’s predictions. After all, it resulted in:

1. Ruthless and destructive anti-competitive practices involving spying, lying, deception, back room deals, bribes, threats, physical violence, etc.

2. Careful and deliberate amplification of political corruption that supported Standard Oil’s monopoly.

3. Extraordinary, near-absolute influence over markets (price controls, supply manipulations, etc.)

4. Widespread public distaste and mistrust in the resulting consumer conditions imposed by Standard Oil.

While it is true that Rockefeller’s initial success was fueled by increased efficiencies and clever cost recovery strategies and innovation, those advantages paled in comparison to the truly brutal market manipulation that Standard Oil imposed later, when it had finagled and coerced the power to do so.

My 2 cents.

What do you think of Bertrand Russell's political ideas?

In response to this question, I read Russell’s Political Ideals and found myself agreeing with most of what he wrote. There isn’t much that is original there except Russell’s clear and carefully reasoned voice, but his assessments of the problems of capitalism and State socialism are spot-on. His proposed solutions are more about recommended principles than prescription — that is, he doesn’t offer a lot of details regarding those solutions — but again I find myself agreeing with most of his sentiments about the importance of self-governance, avoiding the use of force, the dangers of unrestrained possessiveness, the importance of creativity, and so on. The only criticism I might have is that Russell leans a bit too far in the direction of individualism, and too frequently looks to the State for intervention. In other words, he relies too heavily on the State to manage society, and demands a rigorous protection of individuality that, IMO, is corrosive to civil society. I would quote specific passages, but Quora will undoubtedly flag my post as “plagiarism” and collapse it…so, alas, I cannot back up my assertions with Russell’s actual words. :-) Regardless, however, I was impressed with Political Ideals, especially given the time period in which it was written.

My 2 cents.

Has Milton Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom" aged well?

LOL. No the book has not aged well, except in two areas. Here’s a quick breakdown of why:

1. Friedman’s monetarism is absolutely his most influential contribution to what has remained part of an effective toolbox for government economic influence at the macro level. That section of the book has aged very well.

2. A guaranteed minimum income (negative income tax) is still a popular idea among some reformers — though usually on the radical Left — but it’s not Friedman’s original idea and is usually lost amid his other points. So I’d say that although the idea persists, Friedman’s contribution hasn’t aged well.

3. Plenty of far-right-leaning folks still carry a torch for school vouchers and resistance to government oversight of education, but the jury is still out on whether this will do anything but improve educational choice for rich people, and decrease economic opportunity and mobility for everyone else.

4. Everything else in the book (that is, the majority of his criticisms and proposals) are now viewed as utter bunk by anyone serious about economics or cognizant of recent history. Many of Friedman’s ideas ideas have been tried — all around the globe — and they have failed utterly. This doesn’t stop neoliberals from quoting Friedman, of course, so in that sense the book has “aged well” as a propagandizing tool for Milton Friedman worshipers, market fundamentalists, proponents of laissez faire economics, right-libertarians and other fervent ideologues. In the real world, however, Friedman’s ideas have been soundly discredited. So in the sense of respect from policy makers and economists, only the blindly and irrationally loyal still hold Friedman’s ideas in any regard.

My 2 cents.

Was Karl Marx actually a socialist?


There is a lot of confusion around this topic, in no small degree because pro-capitalist, neoliberal market fundamentalists in the U.S. and elsewhere have worked very hard to promote propaganda that keeps anything to do with Marx rather confused (for some elaboration on this, check out the post WWI and WWI “Red Scares”).

Here’s how I would lay things out:

The two main threads of socialism that were championed during the 1800s where social democracy and communism. Marx stepped into this debate with a theory of “historical materialism” that asserted that a specific order of evolution and revolution would occur in human society — one relating to the inherent conflict between the classes that form around different modes of production. It’s an interesting theory with quite a few salient observations about observable dynamics in history (such as the influence of modes of production on sociopolitical systems and consciousness), but it is also very simplistic…which has made if fairly easy to criticize. However, a moneyless, wageless, classless society was always the endgame of historical materialism as Marx envisioned it. And of course this would be facilitated through social ownership of the means of production…which is, of course, socialism.

But then came Vladimir Lenin, who asserted that “socialism” was actually an interim stage in the evolution from capitalism to stateless communism. And because of this interjection of differentiation, the waters became a lot muddier. Before Lenin, a more consistent differentiator between communism and socialism was that communism promoted atheism, whereas socialism did not. But after Lenin, communism was promoted as the endgame superior to socialism, and so perpetuating “socialism” per se would be — in this context at least — antagonistic to an evolution into communism. And for these and other reasons, Marx became forever disassociated with threads of social democracy that evolved in Europe and elsewhere, and which have resulted in the many mixed economies that attempt to balance the worst distortions of capitalism with socialist institutions.

Now something to note…and this is kind of important IMO…is that Marx was pretty permissive regarding violent expropriation, and pretty noncommittal about promoting specific forms of democracy. Marx did praise the democratic process he observed of the Paris Commune — which was itself aiming for social democracy — but apart from that, much of his language leans toward rhetoric like “the dictatorship of the proletariat.” In Capital, Marx does indicate that capitalism’s transformation of “scattered private property” into “capitalist private property” is inherently more violent and oppressive than the transformation of capitalist private property into socialized property: “In the former case, we had the expropriation of the mass of the people by a few usurpers; in the latter, we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people.” But apart from that comparison, he gives every indication that a revolutionary transition away from capitalism is going to be messy — and not just in terms of counterrevolution. Instead Marx fetishizes the proletariat as an idealized champion of moral rectitude in an unjust class division, and the bourgeoisie as the villains who must be overthrown. And of course this could only embolden the Bolsheviks in their murderous consolidation of power, Pol Pot’s brutal methods, and so on. In any case, I think these two issues — a lackluster and unspecific promotion of democracy, and a permissive attitude (or presumption of inevitability) towards violent revolutions — were Marx’s greatest errors.

With all of this said, the one point the OP is definitely getting wrong is asserting that Marx “never says that the proletariat is justified in revolting or that society will be better off afterwards.” The whole point of Marx’s theory of history and (and advocacy of proletariat self-governance) is liberation — emancipation really — and an end to oppression and exploitation. That’s a really difficult point to miss if Marx’s writings are taken as a whole: he is completely oriented to remedying the problems of capitalism, and insists that such remedies will, in fact, arise of their own dialectic, evolutionary imperative.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this excerpt of Marx…because it is so wonderfully concise, and so insightfully accurate, in elaborating the very problems of capitalism we see manifesting in full force today:

From Marx’s Capital, Vol.1, Part VIII:

“As soon as this process of transformation has sufficiently decomposed the old society from top to bottom, as soon as the labourers are turned into proletarians, their means of labour into capital, as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, then the further socialisation of labour and further transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever extending scale, the co-operative form of the labour-process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as the means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world-market, and this, the international character of the capitalistic régime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.”


My 2 cents.

What do Keynesian and Austrian economists agree about?


LOL. This question got a healthy chuckle out of me. About the only intersect that I can think of is that they both acknowledge the existence of money and markets. Aside from that, I’d say searching for further intersects is like trying to find common ground between the Phoenix (an imaginary bird with no empirical basis) and a Penguin (an actual bird, but one that “flies” underwater) - they are both “birds” in the broadest sense, but that’s about it. Really the Austrian School is more of an individualistic economic materialist religion that has never borne any actual fruit in the real world other than failure, whereas what Keynes observed and proposed — albeit still in the philosophical sphere that economics occupies — has been repeatedly validated by actual historic trends, policies and events.

Comment from Sean King: "…You do know that the concept of opportunity cost was borne from the Austrian School right? And the marginal revolution? It would be one thing to argue that the Austrian hasn't made any significant advances since its revival in the 70s. I'd disagree with you but I could understand that. But to outright dismiss its contributions to our understanding of markets is irresponsible."


That is a fair critical tack to take with my very brief answer — though I would say that, at least at 30,000 feet, the Austrian School has been more wrong than right in its assertions. At a more granular level, however, Menger, von Wieser et al made some pretty salient observations that did contribute to our understanding and dialogue overall. I don’t disagree with that. But there is a BIG difference between accurately observing certain components in economic forces, events or metrics, and then using those observations to create an overall system that demonstrates predictive efficacy. Big difference indeed — and that is what I was speaking to, because that is where the Austrian approach has failed, and where Keynes has prevailed.

As a separate, more specific consideration of the two issues you raised, von Wieser wasn’t the first to observe or describe opportunity cost…he was just the first to attach a very catchy phrase to it — and one that stuck. As for marginal utility, again it was von Wieser who seems to have come up with a useful term that endured, but this concept is widely accepted to have originated with Bernouilli, was then developed by Menger and his non-Austrian contemporaries, all before culminating in the work of Marshal, von Wieser et al. So I wouldn’t say you can really lay the marginal revolution at the feet of the Austrian school…only that they helped support and expand the concept of subjective valuation.

As for being irresponsible, I don’t mean to be dismissive out-of-hand, it’s just that most of what I have encountered in Austrian-leaning thinking (particularly at the Mises/Rothbard end of the spectrum) has proven itself to be utter nonsense in the realm of real-world policy consequences.


From Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-do-Keynesian-and-Austrian-economists-agree-about/answer/T-Collins-Logan

How can property rights be justified without appealing to capitalist culture?

This is a pretty squirrelly topic, because so many assumptions have been made over time that have no “universal” basis or ground; in other words, they don’t have empirical validity that is replicable across all cultures around the globe, or throughout all of history…and sometimes they don’t have a clear logical basis either. For example:

Theory of labor appropriation: Based on the faulty assumption that primitive peoples throughout history claimed “ownership” when they applied their labor to land, objects they created, etc. This is actually a pretty modern idea (in terms of the total span of human culture and civilization). Locke actually used the Native Americans for his example - and he was just wrong. In actuality most Native American tribes either had no conception of “ownership” at all, or a collective (tribal) view of ownership or use — especially regarding land, hunting rights, etc. Locke was, well, just mistaken — as countless others have been who haven’t actually studied cultural anthropology when making assertions about primitive cultures.

The tragedy of the commons: A thought experiment that was repeated and amplified over decades to justify ownership and private control of resources. The irony, however, is that Elinor Ostrom documented dozens of instances of “common pool resource management” in cultures all around the globe that shared a non-depleting egalitarian access to the commons without mishap…and without either government ownership or private ownership.

Property rights as “natural rights” extending from sovereignty over one’s own person for one’s survival via mixing with labor: As the Austrian School (Rothbard, Hoppe) philosophically argued variation of Locke’s labor appropriation, this really just becomes an absurd extension of individualistic economic materialism, assuming (completely without rational or empirical basis) that social agreements, cultural preconditions, cooperative prosociality and all the other hallmarks of human civilization aren’t necessary or required for human survival; that instead they can be replaced with 100% self-sufficiency. In essence, it is an article of faith grounded in individualistic (atomistic) beliefs that are not supported by empirical research on how homo sapiens has actually survived and thrived as a species. This thesis becomes even more absurd when it extends beyond “personal” possessions (a knife, a jacket, a blanket, wild-harvested food or anything used for survival in a given moment) to things that will be utilized by everyone (i.e common resources) just because the “rightful owner” was “the first to show up and claim it.” Here there is an even greater leap of faith. It’s all very silly, and Hoppe and Rothbard can never really justify their positions other than to say, well…it makes sense to them (i.e. using statements like “how could it be otherwise?”).

So we can conclude fairly easily that conceptions of private property are a faith-based enterprise that contradicts both sound reasoning and empirical facts. What we do know, however, is that private property (as either a universally accepted principle or as a feature of law) is most certainly necessary for capitalism to function, so much so that anarcho-capitalists, laissez-faire neoliberals, Randian objectivists and other market fundamentalists will scrabble tooth-and-nail to justify the concept. The irony, however, is that liberty is greatly impeded by the concept of private property; in fact we could say that private property is itself one of the most profound sources of interference to freedom that humanity has every invented. To appreciate why this is the case, I recommend this essay: The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty (scroll down linked page to read it - no need to sign into Academia)

Ultimately, then, the answer to the OP’s question is: No, property rights can’t be justified in a rational or empirical way that promotes either liberty or personal sovereignty, and are actually intrinsically antagonistic to both. Private property is a very handy concept for the haves to exploit the have-nots, however…and so it evokes religious conviction among the pro-capitalist crowd.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Steeve Chaboussie: "And yet, I’m pretty sure you lock your door. I am genuinely interested with how you reconcile that with “So we can conclude fairly easily that conceptions of private property are a faith-based enterprise that contradicts both sound reasoning and empirical facts.”


There was a time when everyone in a given culture would “cross themselves” whenever someone looked at them in a strange way, o perhaps pointed at them with an index finger. There was a time when various cultures felt compelled to sacrifice animals on altars to appease their gods. There was a time when it was “common sense” that the Earth was flat and the Sun and Moon revolved around it. Today we have equally irrational beliefs that guide our daily lives. Beliefs about the importance of “knocking on wood,” or that certain numbers are “lucky” for us, or that people of a certain skin color — or accent, country of origin, etc. — should be feared, or that synchronistic events must inherently “mean” something. Our species is, essentially, predisposed to superstition, irrationality and rationalization. Which is where the fear-based reasoning that enshrines private property in law (and fences off yards, and locks doors) comes from. It isn’t rational, it isn’t necessary, and in terms of the evolution of civil society, it isn’t “natural” in the sense it has been argued to be for the last few hundred years. It is instead an invention of our superstitious, fearful, systematizing minds. That was my point.

Now, if your are asking if I participate in this delusion along with everyone else…well of course I do. Because that is currently how we have restricted freedoms in civil society to an immense degree: by cordoning off 99% of the world around us as “privately owned” and inaccessible to non-owners. People who do not respect these artificial, fear-based boundaries are considered to be “breaking the law,” and because those who willfully and knowingly “break the law” in this way generally have nefarious agendas in mind, it would be unwise not to conform to the societal standards as they have evolved — despite the ridiculousness of their underlying premise. In the same way, a nudist who believes wearing clothes is…well…just a silly convention that hides or attempts to shame the natural beauty of all human bodies will also wear clothes in public. We conform — to whatever degree we must — in order to survive.

This is how I reconcile the hypocrisy of many of my own behaviors that I fundamentally despise. I also allow people to pay me for the services I provide — I would prefer they didn’t, as I find it distasteful and undermining of relationship and trust — but there is currently no other means for me to reliably obtain food and shelter for my family. And yes, I have tried some alternatives, and admire planned communities that attempt to do the same, but we are so embedded in a commercialistic, capitalistic society that “stepping outside” of it fully is extremely difficult. In fact, the only folks I know who have done so with ongoing success have had to leave the U.S. altogether…and many of them are still struggling to live according to their principles without external support.

However, these de facto conditions of “private property oppression” are not immutable, and my hope is that more and more inquisitive and thoughtful folks will gradually wake up to the fact that these conditions need to change in order to maximize the promises of democracy and liberty. It’s why I have been working to promote Level 7 proposals. But we shall see….

The Venus Project: What do people think about the Resource Based Economy predicted by Jacques Fresco?

I see lots of encouraging intentions - in fact I was delighted to find intersections in some of Fresco's work and my own - but I also encountered quite a few problems with Fresco's proposals.

The main problematic issues as I see them:


(I)

Fresco frequently alludes to the idea that we can't solve resource scarcity issues using the same old tools that got us into the current mess. Unfortunately, he does not approach technology and science with exactly the same rigor, instead elevating them to a vaunted "solution"s status rather than acknowledging that they are really inherent to many of the challenges in modernity. Alas, this is magical thinking.

Breaking this down...As a former IT expert with some twenty years of experience with complex computing technologies, I would say that relying on computing and technology to manage production and resource allocation is extremely foolish. Technological determinism - or "technology as panacea" in this case - is a consequence of not knowing how fragile and easily disrupted technological systems inherently are, especially as they increase in complexity. A la Kurzweil and others, it's become a bit of religious conviction that some sort of tipping point "is bound to occur" that frees humanity of its labors and existential challenges. From the perspective of someone who has spent nearly half of his life installing, building, programing and maintaining all manor of technology-dependent "cybernetic solutions" to complex problems, I'm here to tell you it simply will not work. Certainly not in our lifetime...and probably not ever. It is instead a romantic religious conviction cradled in a love of science fiction...and nothing more. Well, actually, it is something more...because such reliance (on any scale) inevitably leads to abrupt and calamitous unintended consequences.

Along the same lines, the scientific method should certainly be part of a larger toolbox in problem-solving...but we shouldn't place it on a pedestal. It has been much too easy to "capture" scientific research and decision-making and processes with opposing values sets, so that science can be used to justify completely different conclusions or reinforce preexisting biases. This is in large part because - in the same spirit as Fresco - many folks romanticize "logical" deductive reasoning, imagining that it is somehow independent of emotions, interpersonal relationships, spiritual perceptions, cultural conditioning, or indeed somatic patterns and proclivities. But it isn't - reason is one small part of a larger organism we call "consciousness." The reductionism inherent to Fresco's investment in science is just a problematic as relying solely on reading pigeon entrails - it excludes too much of the human experience. To appreciate what I'm alluding to, consider reading my essays on Sector Theory and Managing Complexity.

Which leads to the next point...


(II)

Values hierarchies are a reflection of moral development; without specific attention to how we mature our ethical frameworks individually and collectively, there will be no stable solutions available to replace the current self-destructive maelstrom. Human beings will undermine any and all systems whenever their values diverge from it. This is a central consideration of my own Level 7 proposals, and unless I’ve missed something, Fresco seems to rather polyannishly sidestep it (i.e. saying instead that it “will emerge naturally” as resource abundance is actualized - see Values | The Venus Project). I don’t entirely disagree with his sentiment here, but I also think moral development itself should be a more consciously and carefully considered facet of any effective proposal.


(III)

There is very little acknowledgement of the current population problem in the Venus Project. Our planet actually can't sustain the Earth's current population at developed countries' consumption levels - even if we "build everything to last" and maximize the efficiency of production as Fresco proposes - and certainly not for the population projected over the next hundred years. Sorry...it's just not possible. So reducing population has to be part of the mix...which again invokes issue #2 above. It's also a fundamental test of Fresco's target to produce "only what is needed;" folks routinely confuse needs and wants for all sorts of complex psychosocial reasons. Until families around the globe embrace the reality that it is immoral and reckless to have more than one or two children, all proposed systems will inevitable be under tremendous pressure to stratify the "haves" and "have-nots," simply out of practical necessity. Fresco tries to brush such concerns aside with his conviction that people will change their minds when presented with "scientific proof" of what they need...but again, this is more evidence of romantic idealism.

With these prominent exceptions, I actually agree with much of what Fresco says about property, currency, democracy, pilot projects and so forth. I just have different ways to address the same challenges. And that raises one last critical concern: the distributed and diffused nature of human social function. I think one reason many libertarian socialist proposals encourage reliance on community-level organization is because that is where humans are most comfortable - their circle of relationships can only be so big, and their engagement in self-governance and indeed productive activities can only extend as far as our wiring for emotional and social intersubjectivity. This sidestepping of subsidiarity is a major flaw in Fresco's understanding of human beings, which frankly presents to me a bit like how someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder might see the world; again, it misjudges the relationship between moral maturity and prosocial choices.

(See my Level 7 website for further discussion of many of the issues alluded to above….)

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/The-Venus-Project-What-do-people-think-about-the-Resource-Based-Economy-predicted-by-Jacques-Fresco/answer/T-Collins-Logan

Why isn't libertarian socialism more popular?

IMO there are three potent reasons for this situation….

1. Libertarian socialism is a well-rounded ideology that countervails every aspect of the current status quo. In other words, it inherently opposes neoliberalism, market fundamentalism, crony-capitalism, conspicuous consumption, economic materialism, individualism, atomism, egotism, etc. As such, it is anathema to nearly all corporate-controlled media, habituated consumer dependencies, apathetic and plutocratically captured democratic processes, and the economic patterns and civic institutions that concentrate wealth and oligarchic power.

2. The term “libertarian” has been coopted by anarcho-capitalists in the U.S., who in turn have consistently been manipulated to serve a neoliberal agenda (i.e. Koch brothers capturing the Tea Party, Friedman and Mises pretending to be libertarian, etc.). At the same time, the Red Scare rhetoric after both World Wars has poisoned American attitudes about “socialism” to the extent that most Americans don’t know they live in a partly-socialized country (i.e. a “mixed economy”). As a result, the term “libertarian socialism” strikes many Americans as confusing or contradictory…the achievement of over a century of propaganda.

3. Some libertarian socialist ideas can be difficult to explain in a sound bite; there are no libertarian socialist equivalents of “free markets!” or “no more taxes!” or “get out the vote!” or “equality now!”

Why isn’t Noam Chomsky ever interviewed on any mainstream media outlet? Why don’t high school students in the U.S. learn about the successful libertarian socialist enclaves that once existed in Spain or the Ukraine? Why isn’t what’s happening right now in Rojava avidly debated in either mainstream media or on college campuses? Well because these realities threaten the lucrative status quo…and we can’t have that, can we?

My 2 cents.

Does libertarianism lead to social darwinism?

I’m left-libertarian so I’m not a fan of Mises or anarcho-capitalism. In fact I think capitalism, private property and unregulated market environments are pretty destructive to civil society on the whole, and individual liberty in particular. But that’s another discussion. Because this question seems to be targeting right-libertarian thinking, it’s only fair for me to say I’m answering from a perspective that is critical of that end of the libertarian spectrum….

So to answer this question as amended to read “right-libertarianism:” Yes, absolutely right-libertarianism promotes a form of social darwinism. The reason is that right-libertarianism celebrates the profit motive, which inevitably encourages the following selective characteristics:

1. The lowest-common-denominator of I/Me/Mine moral function, where individualistic economic materialism subjugates prosocial traits to grubby egotism and acquisitiveness.

2. The toddlerization of consumers into perpetual dependence on unhealthy commercial products and services.

3. De facto wage-slavery (albeit contractual and voluntary) that likewise disrupts self-sufficiency and personal growth.

4. Multi-generationally amplified cognitive stupefaction via inherited concentrations of private property and wealth.

5. A persistent isolation and atomization of the individual that disrupts psychosocial well-being, interpersonal relationships, cultural capacities and skillfulness, and (ultimately) evolutionary advantages through group selection.

6. Disregard for any other externalities of commercial production (environmental pollution, stress-related illness, decreasing food quality, poor socialization, etc.) *that have a demonstrated negative epigenetic impact*.

Over time, the amplification of such characteristics through the market dynamics, products and services inherent to profit-centric owner-shareholder enterprise models will inevitably decimate the human species. It’s already happening, and the only current bulwark against a steepening downward spiral is regulatory oversight…which is also failing. As the State can never adequately react to the fluid and persistent energies of the profit motive (or worse, succumbs to its capture), this will always be a losing battle; the organs of the State are simply too cumbersome, while rent-seeking is a wily and pernicious viper. That is, unless and until: All enterprise submits to worker self-management, community level oversight, and daily democratic controls; all resources are freed of private ownership and returned to the commons; and profit is redefined to support civil society rather than undermine it. If not, humanity is doomed to become dumber, less healthy, and more ethically incompetent with each generation. There can still be competition and indeed limited markets in a left-libertarian world, but those mechanisms will be subjected to the collectively agreed upon priorities of civil society - instead of the other way around as things are today. Essentially, then, market fundamentalism has to go the way of all other forms of fundamentalism to avoid any new mutations of feudalism that can degrade our genome.

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/Does-libertarianism-lead-to-social-darwinism-1/answer/T-Collins-Logan