Cooking the Books 2 – Reformism sucks
Although it is rather obvious that the ‘resource-based economy’ that Peter Joseph of the Zeitgeist Movement wants – with no ownership rights over resources, no money and open access according to need – is recognisably what we could call ‘socialism’, he himself has consistently refrained from using the word.
In a podcast on 17 June entitled Why ‘socialism’ sucks. And it’s not why you think 😉 he gives one reason for this (tinyurl.com/46eb6vp3). Basically, he sees it as a reaction to the effects of capitalism involving government intervention in the market to try to deal with them. That’s not how we use the word. The term we use for that is ‘reformism’. But let’s see how he develops his argument.
He sees capitalism as a system founded on ‘the use of markets’:
‘Markets are indispensable to capitalism and define its very nature. From the act of market trade, the structure develops in a self-organising manner. For instance, markets can only exist if there is property or ownership. Ownership leads to the idea of capital, which in turn creates group competitive incentives, resulting in hierarchies, power imbalances, inequity, and other common features. These features also generate responses such as legal regulation against property crime, etc.’
So, capitalism is a system with its own structural logic:
‘the market system is hence a dynamic system with structure and not a blob of malleable philosophical incentives […] The system tells us what to do and not the other way around. […] [L]iterally every country in the world that uses a market economy – which is every single one – is utilising the same foundational structure regardless of how it’s administered or regulated. The only variation we observe within this basic system structure is the extent to which external forces attempt to manage or control it. This intervention does not alter the system structure itself but rather influences its endogenous behaviours, reorienting outcomes within certain limits.’
But such interventions cannot solve the problems capitalism generates:
‘A truly objective system analysis of capitalism reveals that poverty, deadly inequity, and environmental destruction are built-in functions of the system, as natural to the system as the production of a good like a smart phone. The only options to address these negative issues are either to completely move away from the trade-based system or to attempt strategic regulation to slow down these outcomes, although never completely eliminate them, of course — they are built in.’
This leads to his definition of ‘socialism’.
‘Socialism essentially builds upon the idea of regulating the inherent features of market economics to create a more sustainable and equitable world. It involves micro-level interventions, such as the state taking control of healthcare to ensure more equitable access. This is a common understanding of socialism in popular culture, deviating from the natural, self-regulatory nature of markets by using bureaucracy/law to compensate for market failures and ideally produce more balanced outcomes.’
In this sense ‘socialism’ is not a distinct, separate system but a reaction within the capitalist system. It sucks, in his view, because when it is portrayed as the alternative to capitalism it ‘limits the potential for improved economic and social organisation’. This sucks for us too, only we call it ‘reformism’.
We agree that capitalism is a system with a built-in logic that can’t be lastingly overcome through government or any other intervention, even if we don’t start from the same basis of systems analysis that Joseph does (or accept his rather unhistorical account of the origin and development of capitalism). Capitalism can’t be reformed so as to work in any other way than it does. It needs to be replaced by a system that ‘completely moves away from the trade-based system’, involving the abolition of property rights over productive resources and production directly for use not sale. What we mean by socialism.