Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Good demolition of Market Socialism/Mutualism.

Free Markets Will Not Abolish Work - Stop Dreaming
This post is a response to this and this.

Recently, I've seen a growing presence of "anti-work" ideology within the online free market libertarian community. Sites like C4SS are beginning to promote this view, and do so in ways that should come across as eye-wincing. The main arguments put forth are similar to Bob Black's essay The Abolition of Work but with a free market twist. Much of it also rejoicing in the idea of being a "slacker" and argues that individuals should seek to build a culture of slack where such a way of life is celebrated, albeit within the context of a free market.

Several of the criticisms put forth by the anti-work crowd seem legitimate on the surface: the prevalence of work has destroyed individual freedoms, negated our ability to live authentically, prevents self-discovery insofar that it controls our lives, and so on. Work is also seen not as a natural condition of existence, but the result of something outside basic human society. Hence, work is not conceptualized as putting effort into your existence, but as "compulsory labor", and, in some cases, "strenuous activity". The antidote to this culture of work is to create an economy of free markets. Open competition, as is claimed, will make the need for work obsolete and will also shed society of the bosses and other oligarchs who create the society where such action is demanded from individuals.

Of course, this idealism is not without serious problems, not just of the ideological sort but also in regards to its pragmatism. Free market libertarians promoting this view outright ignore the common criticisms of markets and the inevitable connection between markets, work, and consumerism. Usually, it's brushed off with the ever-parroted statement: "that's not a true free market", immediately shifting the discussion into an argument about what should constitute a real free market that ignores common elements found in all markets, taxed and regulated or not. In this view, it is the State that creates the need for work through the subsidization of certain industries and the regulation of others. When pressed on this, free marketeers will more than likely point to dubious examples in history and will, once again, go off on an endless debate about what a real free market is.

When reducing all blame to the State fails, they turn to the next best thing: scapegoating culture. It is "the culture" which has created and preserves the work-centric society, they say. This narrative points to the Protestant Work Ethic as the main culprit, completely overlooking the origins of this code, why it manifested the way it did, or how much of a motivator it was compared to other social factors. The goal is, then, to shake off this Puritan idealism about the necessity and honor of work and adopt a new ideology of slackerism (again, within the context of a free market).

Though this presents a very obvious problem. Ideology and culture cannot be looked at in a vacuum. Much of the dominant ideology in society - any society - stems from multiple causes, but predominantly, is determined by relations of production. The need for work is inherent to capitalism, there is no doubt about that, but capitalism also necessitates an ideology of work that individuals within the system internalize. This would include the idea that the boss' claim to property is justified, the contracts made between the boss and workers are justified, the wage system whereby workers are paid less than the value of their labor is justified, the division of labor which creates an atmosphere of domination is justified, the market mechanisms of production and exchange are justified, and so on. With this, ideology plays a key role in the reproduction process of the mode and relations of production. This is understood as constituting a large part of class struggle against workers and lower classes.

We must also remember that ideology cannot be adequately thought of as a mere "false consciousness" but as the means we go about understanding our everyday lives. Much of ideology is reproduced outside the workplace through the other institutions and practices within the institutions we interact with, such as families, schools, religious institutions, the medical establishment, the media, arts, clubs, and whatnot. Even if an individual manages to escape the workplace, they will still be active within a culture that promotes work as a desirable way to live. This brings up another point: ideology manifests itself autonomously. Individuals go about their lives thinking that the choices they adopt are of their own autonomous personhood, however, every decision they make is bound by social structures.

Though the need for an ideology of work is not unique to modern capitalism; any market system will ultimately require compulsory labor and will ultimately sprout a dominant ideology that justifies it and furthers it. Markets themselves, whether capitalist or market socialist, are heavily ideological. The market would still need to be kept alive by a constant flow of production and consumption, hence the need to preserve the elements of the "big capital" consumer culture. As well, the ideology of work would still persist. The need for labor to be productive to ensure the creation of commodities would entail the idea of work emerge in the minds of laborers. Even self-employed artisans (such as many agorists) become immersed in the notion of work being a favorable element of life; work becomes associated with productivity, success, and prestige. One will find that the market in any form causes individuals to be subordinated to their roles within it: your identity in society is based on your role within the market, as the market is the most visible and tangible element of daily life in which we interact. You must give yourself over to the market in order to survive. This is true even of people with a fluidity of jobs/careers who are still living under the boot of market forces.

Ideology also spontaneously emerges from the commodity form. A very good example of this would be found in consumer society and advertising, where businesses and advertisers create a demand for shit you don't need by breeding an artificial but attention-grabbing meaning into commodities (i.e. the commodity is attractive to you, not because of what it is, but what it represents in the larger societal context). Not only does this keep the flow of capital moving, as markets need steady consumption, but it also furthers the idea of the market and frivolous consumerism as rituals of everyday life. Would the consumer-based society not compel someone to engage in work? This appears to be no different in a market of open competition that was entirely made up of small producers, as the major elements are still there.

And let's not forget how a highly competitive marketplace would lead to intense competition in other institutions, such as schools. There is no doubt that the curriculum of most schools are heavily based in the preparation of students for the workplace, both skill-wise and ideology-wise. In a very competitive free market, there is no doubt parents would be more incentivized to put their children through rigorous schooling in order to prepare them for the market. Yes, schoolwork is comparable to workplace labor, very much so. Now, within an environment so competition-driven, would there even be space to challenge the dominant paradigm of work on a large scale? How would a culture of slackerism manifest in that kind of society? This is a question that never seems to get an answer.

Now let's understand the anti-work free market from a pragmatic view. Is it truly practical to assume a market would allow for a culture of slack to exist, and if so, would the market function and keep functioning if an anti-work mentality were widespread amongst people? It is already understood why an ideology of work is needed and comes about in a market system, but it is also important to understand why work as compulsory labor is necessary. An oversimplified version of things can be explained like this: in a market, a firm - whether large or small, hierarchical or democratic - invests in order to produce, those articles of consumption are later sold on the market, and the money generated from their sale goes back into production. It is important to understand that "the market" is not merely a string of individual firms exchanging bread for gold for fish; like ideology, political economy cannot be well understood in such a reductionist manner. Rather, markets are very much a social relation that bind individuals to one another through commodity exchange. As was stated before, markets require certain elements of reproduction as part of the larger relations of production and exchange. A prevalent slacker culture would ultimately cause a disturbance this, setting the way for crisis.

This view is countered with the idea of mass technological unemployment. It is argued that machines would replace humans on a large enough scale to ensure work - as well as the need for a reproduction process - becomes obsolete. With machines completely replacing human labor, no one would have to engage in compulsory labor in order to produce food, housing, cars, clothing, electronics, or any other consumer products. This would allow free markets and a slacker way of life to become possible when this new technology leads the world to post-scarcity.

It should be no surprise as to the amount of problems this sort of free market technophilia would bring. First, it is important that a distinction made between authoritarian vs. anti-authoritarian technology. Authoritarian technology is the technology that ends up dominating the lives of individuals within the society in which it functions. It is very difficult to opt-out of. Anti-authoritarian technology, on the other hand, refers to technology that humans control on their own terms, and that serves to make human lives easier and more comfortable. The relationship people have with this form of technology is mutual.

Now let's return to the economy. In a market system, people are compelled to exchange money for commodities. If one does not have a means of making money, then they cannot afford to purchase the items they need, and are thus denied a means of subsistence. Technological unemployment in a market, especially one where hierarchical property relations are present, doesn't entail that everyone become a self-sufficient survivalist; it entails that individuals are left without livelihood as the use of machines has made their skills unnecessary and too expensive (after all, one major reason capitalists embrace new technologies is due to their desire to increase profits by saving money on wages to workers). With this, comes less consumption, as individuals will not have the means of consuming all that much, thus problems within the market arise. Firms running these machines will also face huge problems with under-consumption: how would they make enough to reinvest in production if a much smaller number of people have the ability to consume the products produced? For the individual unemployed by technology, obscure alternatives such as bargaining or running off to the countryside with the dreams of establishing a self-sufficient farm seem far-fetched (at least, for the majority), and fail to solve the major problems caused by a market-dominated economy. In fact, self-sufficiency on a large scale would increase underconsumption, as individuals would not be as compelled to turn to other businesses for needed goods.

On the other side, there is also the fact that the technological society has increased society's need for hard, compulsory labor. In the contemporary world, society has become heavily dominated by computers, television, cell phones, and their the mechanical reproduction of images and feelings (such as advertising which appeals to certain symbolic ideas, and acts as a means of reproduction for capitalism through consumer culture). In many ways, this has caused a demand for more technological experts who work in such fields. A good example would be the high demand for individuals with knowledge of computer skills, which has replaced much of the demand for manual labor in the First World. This is where the distinction between authoritarian and non-authoritarian technology comes in: the subjugation of people to technology vs. the subjugation of technology to people. In a hypothetical scenario where technology becomes so efficient that it offsets the need for individuals to labor compulsively in order to produce, there may very well be an end result of total technological dominance. This also brings in the question of technocracy: would a system dependent on technology in this regard require a specific social hierarchy of tech-savvy people in order to create and run it, and would this new society eventually be centered around the authority of this new social class? It may seem like a work of science fiction today, but no one should underestimate or deliberately downplay the social effects of technology when the prevalence of technology in daily life has been so dominating.

Likewise, attempts to portray a future technological society as one where each household contains its own personal 3D printer (often showcased as a model for efficient, decentralized means of production) cannot get around the major problems of technology within a market. The issue of obtaining raw materials to put inside the printer will still exist, as would the fact that larger firms in the market would have far more resources to invest and would likely outproduce small individuals. Then there is the question of post-scarcity. Post-scarcity is often envisioned as the ideal for proponents of anti-work, as it means the need for compulsory labor has been completely unneeded forever onward. Though, post-scarcity would also entail that the need for market relations are also completely unneeded. If it is assumed that every household possesses a 3D printer which efficiently prints out commodities for individual use and, on top of it, ensures that individuals are self-sufficient in most other ways of life (such as food, medicine, and repairs) why would a market continue to be the dominant form of exchange? After all, one major justification given by economists and pro-market ideologues for the existence of the market is scarcity. A market regulates the consumption of scarce goods; without this scarcity, what reason is there for maintaining the market? As was said before, a scenario where most individuals create the bulk of the items they need from their own home would entail a huge disturbance in the circulation of capital. This is where a move towards anarcho-communism from market anarchism would be far more pragmatic. If there is to be no or very little work, and a high degree of self-sufficiency, maintaining the market would be disastrous.

What ought to be concluded from this is, anti-work is not a compatible idea with a market economy. When market anarchists advocate technological unemployment or small-scale enterprise ("microindustry") as an alternative to work, they neglect an understanding of work and the ideology of work as crucial to the market system. Even if the contemporary market is not understood as a "true free market", it is foolish to assume a market without the taxes, regulations, and subsidies would be without the need for work. In the case of microindustry or agorism, production and consumption are still needed, as is a reproduction process. It seems as though the free market alternative to work is - work. If one were to truly advocate an anti-work position, they would throw out market ideology and advocate a form of economic and social organization closer to communism or anarcho-primitivism. It is only in those conditions when a culture of slacking will be able to prevail.

No comments:

Post a Comment