Author Topic: Karl Marx and Bertie Wooster  (Read 3343 times)

Leisured

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Karl Marx and Bertie Wooster
« on: December 20, 2013, 03:33:09 AM »

I grew up in sixties Australia, when unions were strong, and used strike action to get better conditions for their members, usually successfully. Workers saw themselves as producers of goods, and thus entitled to a fair share of the economic pie. The Australian Labor Party, during the same period, used the power of the ballot box to extract taxation revenue from the rich to fund a universal health scheme and universal state education.

In 1848, Karl Marx saw, correctly, that there is class conflict between bosses and workers, and that force would be needed to get better pay and conditions for workers. Better conditions included safe working conditions and an end to child labor. Marx did not foresee the power of one man one vote, nor that, in the twentieth century, class conflict would not mean blood in the streets and class hatred.

The recent 99% Occupy Wall Street movement is simply a continuation of conventional Marxist class conflict, but again need not mean class hatred or violence. There is some connection with Mustachianism because young Mustachians need a well paid job to accumulate investments, and spreading automation threatens the supply of jobs.

Conservative political parties have always promoted the interests of those living off unearned income in the form of dividend or rents. Think of the world of Bertie Wooster, or the characters in the novels of Dornford Yates, and real life equivalents of these idlers protected their interests by voting for conservative parties. I know that not all supporters of conservative parties live off unearned income.

Today, the problem is different. The rising tide of mechanization and automation forces many workers, even skilled ones, to compete with machines, and are thus competing with the equivalent of slave labor. Machines produce a lot of wealth, and it is appropriate for people to use power at the ballot box to extract a living from the economy because jobs are disappearing.

What are needed are political parties who promote the interests of those who are idlers because they have lost their jobs to machines, and need to extract an income from the economy even though they do not work. Such people are in a similar position to those who extract unearned income from investments. I mean no criticism of idlers, whether the modern type, or Bertie Wooster.

marty998

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Re: Karl Marx and Bertie Wooster
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2013, 04:35:41 PM »
Does this have something to do with Holden leaving?

I saw the word union at the top and immediately thought of Toyota's current fight to remove all the excessive employee perks.

I'm all for workers getting a decent wage and conditions but the current Automotove workers agreements are so far heavily biased in favour of the employees that I have very little sympathy for the workers losing their jobs.

Harsh but I'm a leftie and even I disagree with what the unions are doing in this case.

Jamesqf

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Re: Karl Marx and Bertie Wooster
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2013, 04:51:47 PM »
I'm all for workers getting a decent wage and conditions but the current Automotove workers agreements are so far heavily biased in favour of the employees that I have very little sympathy for the workers losing their jobs.

Same here.  If Australian unions ae at all like American ones (and my impression is that they're worse), the activist members regard employers as the enemy.  If their demands drive an employer into bankruptcy, that's a (Pyrrhic) victory.

Leisured

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Re: Karl Marx and Bertie Wooster
« Reply #3 on: December 21, 2013, 04:34:33 AM »

The last para of my OP is the point of my OP! Try reading it!

The last para does not mention unions, and I only mentioned unions earlier because they have been a positive part of class struggle over the last century. The point of my OP was that in the near future, workers should use political power to secure a Basic Income, that is an income which you receive whether working or not. Switzerland had a referendum on this matter recently, and I understand that the motion was lost.

Bosses have their own unions in the form of industry associations and lobbyists.

There are three groups relevant to this post: workers, bosses, and those living on investment income. Conservative political parties support the last two groups, and socialist parties, which appear not to exist in the US, support the first group. One of my points was that as machines displace workers, and also produce great wealth, displaced workers find themselves in a similar position to those living on investment income, and displaced workers need a political party to press for a Basic Income, extracted from increased taxation revenue. Marx would be surprised.

The Mustachian slant on this matter is that intelligent, Mustachian workers are happy to save and invest - if they have reliable, well paid employment. Another Mustachian slant is that the fictional character Bertie Wooster and his circle were well off, but had no interest in conspicuous consumption.

I stress again that class struggle is inevitable, but need not lead to class hatred and violence. Marx wondered in 1848 whether workers in industrialised Europe had the intelligence to understand the inevitability of class struggle, and he assumed they did. European workers chose socialism and democracy rather than Marxism. As automation forces yet another class struggle, we have to ask again whether workers in rich countries have the intelligence to create and support socialist political parties which will push for a Basic Income.





Peony

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Re: Karl Marx and Bertie Wooster
« Reply #4 on: December 21, 2013, 06:04:21 AM »
Bertie Wooster had a butler/valet (Jeeves), belonged to a private men's club and, IIRC, traveled fairly frequently, sometimes on ocean liners; would that not equate to conspicuous consumption?

Social democracy à la Scandinavia seems like a nice non-hating solution to me. Essentially capitalist, but with lots of perks (education, health care, family leave, etc.) for the non-rich.

Jamesqf

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Re: Karl Marx and Bertie Wooster
« Reply #5 on: December 21, 2013, 11:33:56 AM »
The last para of my OP is the point of my OP! Try reading it!

I did.  Seemed such an obvious fallacy that I didn't see a need for response.  But since you insist, the two are poles apart.  Those who live off investments are simply enjoying the accumulated fruits of labor, whether their own or (as in Bertie's case) inherited from parents &c.

Seems to me that one of the major memes of this blog is that just about anyone can manage to accumulate enough to live off investments.

As to the rest, the whole idea of 'class' in the Marxist sense may have been relevant in Victorian Britain, but it seems pretty obvious nonsense today.

Leisured

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Re: Karl Marx and Bertie Wooster
« Reply #6 on: December 23, 2013, 04:22:29 AM »

You raise an interesting point, jamesqf; that people now effectively choose which class they want to live in. People born without wealth can accumulate investments more easily now than in the past. I can see that if Marx came back and observed rich countries now, he might lose sympathy with workers because workers can now choose, with determination and self discipline, to move out of the working class. The joker in the pack is automation, which generates a lot of wealth but takes jobs, and you need a job to save and invest.

I support my original point; that workers being in the majority, can choose to create and support a political party which aims to impose taxes on the rich to provide a Basic Income. The contrast between the 99% and the 1% is still standard class struggle. Workers may not have the intelligence to understand these matters, and Marx, if he came back, might not have the sympathy for workers that he did in 1848.

It seems to an outsider that American children are brought up to believe that they live in a society where class struggle does not matter. Clearly not true, and plays into the hands of the 1%. I stress again that class struggle is inevitable, but need not lead to class hatred and violence.


Peony, having a butler, belonging to a club (probably not expensive), and travelling occasionally is certainly consumption, but not in my view, conspicuous consumption. I see that there can be disagreement on this point.

grantmeaname

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Re: Karl Marx and Bertie Wooster
« Reply #7 on: December 23, 2013, 06:43:55 AM »
Reading your post reminds me of one of the most valuable things I learned in my time as a math major. 'Definitions are not true or false. Definitions are either useful or not useful.' Don't think of 'categories of people', theoretical constructs, as facts about the world. Think of them as a paradigm, a pair of reading glasses that you can put on or take off when they're useful or not. Your definitions strike me as strange, and even if the logic that you use after starting at that point is flawless, they affect your conclusions.

Why are there three inexorable classes of people, with workers chained to their jobs and unable to own capital, when we know that people across the wealth spectrum own significant financial assets? Why 'should' members of one of these classes, workers, unanimously agitate for a benefit that brings with it significantly higher taxes but that only some of them will use? Why do parties that don't use the epithet 'socialist' not represent what people who have jobs want? Why is struggle inevitable between the three arbitrary classes? (Nobody argues that men and women will inevitably clash because one "class" has many more X chromosomes than the other.)

Your arguments are not illogical. But the definitions you've chosen as a starting point from which to analyze society seem not to be very productive. Marx started with the assumption that capital has no legitimate rents as a factor of production and that labor is the source of all revenues. He had some useful things to say, but like you he came to flawed conclusions based on flawed premises.

Jamesqf

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Re: Karl Marx and Bertie Wooster
« Reply #8 on: December 23, 2013, 03:04:22 PM »
Good points.  Also remember that logic depends on your starting assumptions.  If those are incorrect - or better to say, do not match the observed world - then applying flawless logic to them results in conclusions that do not match reality*.

Then we have to remember that a lot of Marx' ideas of class derive from European culture, and particularly from Victorian Britain.  Those ideas have always been fairly antithetical to American culture, and particularly to that of the midwest and west, as each generation of enigrants left their local 'class' system & status behind.

*This is one of the things that powers Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.  Take a starting premise that may just be a figure of speech, and take it to its logical conclusion.  My personal favorite has always been retrophrenology.
« Last Edit: December 28, 2013, 12:09:44 PM by Jamesqf »

Leisured

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Re: Karl Marx and Bertie Wooster
« Reply #9 on: December 26, 2013, 10:20:35 PM »

Jamesqf and grantmeaname, there is much in what you say, but we will have to agree to disagree. Walk into a newsagent near Wall Street, and the publications on offer with differ from those on offer in a newsagent in a working class suburb. Marketing people are well aware of different social categories, a related idea to class. Posters on this MMM forum will be a distinct social category. Consider the posts on ‘Investor Alley’. What proportion of the population would understand these posts? Ten percent?

In Marx’s day, there was less social mobility, and the working class at that time was a mixed bag, and included a few people of considerable intelligence and ability, but whose parents were poor. Marx would have realized that these intelligent poor were potential leaders in class struggle. Marx and others were offended that people should live in great poverty, and even face possible starvation, in an era of increasing industrial production, made possible by machinery.

Social mobility improved later on, but as those born into the working class who had intelligence and ability moved out of the working class, there was a large residue of people who were going to stay in the working class because they had no intelligence and ability. This has been obvious for a long time. Americans pride themselves on American social mobility, but often fail to realize that the great majority of working class people stay in the working class because they have no ability. Social mobility is a very good thing, but has only limited effect.

And automation is still the joker in the pack. Look ahead twenty years, and automation will make it difficult for young people of high ability to save and invest for financial independence because jobs of any sort will be scarce. This brings us back to my original post, that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and class struggle of the future is likely to be about getting an income from the automated economy, regardless of whether you work or not.

grantmeaname

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Re: Karl Marx and Bertie Wooster
« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2013, 06:47:37 AM »
Walk into a newsagent near Wall Street, and the publications on offer with differ from those on offer in a newsagent in a working class suburb.
No they won't. Have you ever been to America?

Jamesqf

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Re: Karl Marx and Bertie Wooster
« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2013, 12:31:55 PM »
Walk into a newsagent near Wall Street, and the publications on offer with differ from those on offer in a newsagent in a working class suburb.

I'm not sure that we even have anything like a newsagent these days.  I certainly can't recall seeing one.  You might find a selection of newspapers & magazines at a supermarket - which might well have the WSJ & NYT along with the National Enquirer.

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Marketing people are well aware of different social categories, a related idea to class.  Posters on this MMM forum will be a distinct social category. Consider the posts on ‘Investor Alley’. What proportion of the population would understand these posts? Ten percent?

I don't think it's social categories that defines publications & marketing, so much as it is interest groups.  What proportion of the population would understand the articles in "Hot Rod" magazine, and would their readership overlap much with say 'Guns and Ammo', 'Muscle & Fitness', 'Outside', or 'Cosmopolitan'?  But I would not be surprised to discover that the readership of each of these cuts a vertical swathe through economic class,

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Social mobility improved later on, but as those born into the working class who had intelligence and ability moved out of the working class, there was a large residue of people who were going to stay in the working class because they had no intelligence and ability.


Or because they chose not to exercise their native abilities, or were persuaded not to by the propaganda of class solidarity.  Again, Terry Pratchett does a good job of encapsulating this in the parable of the Crab Bucket:
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“Oh, that's crabs for you,” said Verity, disentangling the ones who had hitched a ride. “Thick as planks, the lot of them. That's why you can keep them in a bucket without a lid. Any that tries to get out gets pulled back. Yes, as thick as planks.”

...

Crab bucket, thought Glenda as they hurried toward the Night Kitchen. That's how it works. People from the Sisters disapproving when a girl takes the trolley-bus. That's crab bucket. Practically everything my mum ever told me, that's crab bucket. Practically everything I've ever told Juliet, that's crab bucket, too.......The worst of it is, the crab that mostly keeps you down is you...