Archive for March, 2010

A cure of sorts, we suppose…

March 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Tweet from Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Pomponius Atticus, severely ill, tried, the Stoic way, to take his own life. Having chosen starvation, he was cured of his illness.

From the Wiki: Atticus … committed suicide when he fell ill. Deciding to accelerate the inevitable, he abstained from ingesting any nourishment, starving himself to death, after being incurably ill for some months, dying at the fifth day of such fasting. He was also buried at the Family Tomb located at the Fifth Mile of the Appian Way.

Just wondering if Taleb believes it possible to cure Washington of its ills by the same method.

Cognitive Dissidents: Progressives are having buyer’s remorse…

March 29, 2010 4 comments

But, they seem unable to figure out who sold them the bill of goods…

John Atcheson is suffering the nagging feeling that he, and progressives generally, have been had:

At the risk of being churlish, passing this health care bill was the palest of victories.

Yes, it’s better than nothing, but as the President himself has pointed out, it’s largely made up of proposals the Republicans advocated a little more than a decade ago.

So, while this is certainly a political victory, it is far from a triumph of progressive ideals. Indeed, this Legislation is a sign of how far the political center has drifted to the right in the last three decades.

He asks a question a few progressives seem willing to broach:

How did we let this happen?

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A question for John Bellamy Foster: Why does Monthly Review hate working people?

March 27, 2010 Leave a comment

As part of our series of exchanges with Michael Lebowitz, we noticed that he often writes for the magazine, Monthly Review, which touts itself as an “independent socialist magazine.” On its website, the magazine states:

Monthly Review speaks to workers, labor organizers, activists, and academics. A scholarly, accessible critique of capitalism, edited by John Bellamy Foster.

Intrigued, we investigated further, particularly interested to see their take on the current crisis, and to discover how they addressed the problem, raised by this crisis, of hours of work. We did not have to look long. The magazine highlights the crisis in an editorial note for February 2010 that delves into several aspects of the crisis, including the tepid response given by Washington to the plight of working families versus its lusty embrace of the gangsters on Wall Street.

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Burn your book, Michael Lebowitz…

March 26, 2010 5 comments

Michael replies:


I don’t agree with your basic premise. I asked you for your data on necessary labour, and you replied by offering information about ‘productive’ jobs compared to ‘unproductive’ ones. By productive, you mean jobs that produce ‘real goods’ as opposed to services, which produce nothing, add no value to the economy and do nothing for the standard of living of people.

By your definition, a job producing snowmobiles is productive, presumably necessary and must be valued whereas the activity of a teacher, nurse, doctor, community worker is useless and unproductive. These are categories warped by capitalism, and we need to break out this ideological straitjacket [which they didn’t do in the USSR— and your distinction is precisely the one that was used in Soviet income accounting]. Speaking as a Marxist and socialist, we need to start from an entirely different premise than capitalism— the premise of human development, the need to create conditions by which ‘rich human beings’ and ‘rich individuality’ can be fostered. From that premise, the activity that you are assigning to the garbage can must be especially valued.


Okay, Michael – we won’t call you Mr. Lebowitz. But, if you keep up this line of argument, we might also stop calling you a socialist, as well. We are trying to assign education and medical care to the garbage can? What nonsense!

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Another reply to Mr. Lebowitz: Job growth policies are a scam

March 22, 2010 3 comments

We received this note from Michael Lebowitz, whose work we earlier criticized for his neglect of the issue of hours of work:

Hi Charley,

I understand where you are coming from but I have problems with your claim that so much of current activity is superfluous. You write: ‘At present, in the United States, only about 15 percent of the workday is devoted to necessary work – with about 85 percent devoted to purely superfluous fictitious economic activity.’

Where do you get this information… and based upon what assumptions? If we want to talk about ‘necessary labour’, it is presumably determined by the level of needs and the level of productivity required to satisfy those needs. I’m sure we agree that the needs considered in capitalism are only those that take a commodity-form for which we require money [‘the true need’ the system produces–Marx]. Thus, the set of needs and the time required is clearly deficient because it doesn’t include the need/time to nurture and educate children, the need/time to prepare and cook food-commodities, the need/time to travel to work, the need/time to act as citizens within a community, etc. [See my ‘Beyond CAPITAL: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class’ for an exploration of Marx on needs.]

When you talk about the reduction of necessary labour and the extent of superfluous labour, then, you clearly must have in mind (a) the needs for capitalistically-produced commodities and (b) the productivity involved in producing those. Presumably you argue that (a) has become increasingly ‘fictional’ and has expanded far, far beyond (c) ‘true’ needs and that productivity in the production of (c) has grown so substantially that necessary labour has fallen now to extremely low levels.

On a personal, emotional level, I can agree with you. The problem, though, is what are ‘true needs’? And, who will decide? The state? Some philosopher-kings? The mass of people currently living in capitalist societies? To what extent does your argument about necessary labour come down to a cultural critique?


Our answer follows:

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