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20150417 The Mind and the Market

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MAIN IDEA:

This book is review of intellectual attitudes to market and capitalism in Western thought. It starts with defining who are the people producing intellectual environment, form attitudes of population, and eventually define issues and approaches to their resolution. The scope of this book is from the late XVII century through the end of XX century and it includes all main intellectual currents related to capitalism either positive or negative.

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION

The introduction describes genesis of this book and defines main notion used in it: capitalism- the system based on market exchange and private property of legally equal individuals. Obviously it exists only to the extent in conditions when the state with its violent machinery supports and protects two keystones of capitalism: equality before law and private property of individuals.

CHAPTER ONE- HISTORICAL BACKDROP: RIGHTS, RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND VIRTUE

This is historical review of relationship between morality and commerce. Ever since ancient Greeks and all the way through development of Christian civilizations this relationship was pretty bad. The main issues and suspicions always were around real intentions and honesty of the commerce participants. The profit as intent of activity was considered impure and activity itself was considered suspicious because of common attitude that there is a given amount of wealth so any commercial activity leading to increase in wealth of one person was at the expense of another. However it was somewhat compensated by accepion of property rights as legitimate part of god’s creation. Eventually medieval Church found equilibrium in pushing unacceptable part of commerce such as usury to outsides such as Jews while making legal system and property rights into noble institutions.

CHAPTER TWO – VOLTAIRE: “A MERCHANT OF A NOBLE KIND”: The Rise of the Intellectual; Exchange and Toleration: The Political Argument; Intellectual Speculation; The Defense of Luxury; Avarice and the Jew: The Limits of Enlightenment

This chapter is about new type of a person – intellectual who is professional thinker and is capable to make living by selling his/her books, ideas, opinions, and lessons. It is written based on the life and writings of Voltaire who had quite positive views of capitalism and commerce. He strongly defended market exchange and believed that it creates tolerance and prosperity. However being also a businessman and dealing in real world he had quite a few nasty encounters with other businessmen and was not really impressed with their honesty and integrity. Neither they were impressed with his personal qualities. It was probably one of main reasons for him to develop strong anti-Semitic views since many of these people were Jewish.

CHAPTER THREE – ADAM SMITH: MORAL PHILOSOPHY AND POIITICAL ECONOMY: Smith’s Life and Milieu; The Consumer Revolution; Explaining the Market; The Legislator and the Merchant; The Moral Balance Sheet of Commercial Society; The Visible Hand of the State; Virtues Inferior and Superior

This is review of live and writing of Adam Smith – the first serious analyst of capitalism as economic system. Somehow it is usually missed that Smith was not an economist, but rather a moral philosopher and his analysis of capitalism concluded that it is not just an effective system of production and distribution, but, even more important, it is a superior moral system because it dramatically decreased violence in interactions between people and promoted tolerance by creating condition when well being of people in society mutually reinforcing.

CHAPTER FOUR- JUSTUS MOSER: THE MARKET AS DESTROYER OF CULTURE: The Virtues of Knowing One’s Place; Destroying the Local Culture; Creating the Poor; Commerce and the Eclipse of Virtue

Much less known, but really important conservative thinker Justus Moser reviewed in this chapter had quite a negative view of capitalism not least because of its meritocracy that destroyed well-organized and stable hierarchical societies. The list of capitalism’s crimes in his opinion was long and, interestingly enough, still repeated by many leftists: destruction of culture, disruption of orderly functioning of society, promotion and enrichment of undeserving people, and eventually destruction of virtue.

CHAPTER FIVE – EDMUND BURKE: COMMERCE, CONSERVATISM, AND THE INTELLECTUALS: The Intellectual in Politics; The Market for “Intelligence” and “Public Opinion”; The Critic of Abstract Reason; Burke as Supporter of Commerce; Burke and the British East Indian Company; Burke’s Analysis of the French Revolution; The Noncontractual Basis of Commercial Society

Another conservative thinker – Burke, represents quite different approach to capitalism. He not only accepted free market approach in production of goods and services, but also expanded it into the area of ideas and politics promoting market place of ideas. His conservatism was also constructive when he provided critique of abstract reason stressing its limitations and impossibility to match complexity of reality. He also pointed out non-contractual nature of society rejecting popular at the time ideas of Rousseau.

CHAFFER SIX – HEGEL: A LIFE WORTH CHOOSING: Feeling at Home in the Modern World; The Setting of The Philosophy of Right; Individuality and Universality; Civil Society and its Discontents; Beyond Civil Society; The General Estate and the Role of the Philosopher

The next thinker – Hegel reviewed here is interesting by simultaneous affirmation of market and somewhat worshipping attitude to the state. The main reason for this was his understanding of society as entity created and held together by the state and his rejection of ideas of natural rights. He also saw property as result of historical process rather than natural right of men. Consequently while understanding positive role of market in economy, Hegel viewed state and civil service as superior entity that should control and direct market forces. Naturally at the top of this hierarchy he saw philosophers as himself explaining and pointing out right direction for state to act.

CHAPTER SEVEN- KARL MARX: FROM JEWISH USURY TO UNIVERSAL VAMPIRISM: Marx’ Jewish Problem an His Labor Problem; From Hegelianism to Communism; Engels’ Critique of Political Economy; Jewdom Transferred; Beyond Particular Identity: The Communist Manifesto; From Usury to Vampirism: Capital; The Aftermath

Obviously nobody had more influence in building intellectual basis for attitude to capitalism than Marx and Engels. Their main ideas were expressed in Communist Manifesto and did not change that much until the end of their lives. Key parts of their ideas: labor theory of value and correspondent theory of labor exploitation by capital, continuous worsening of conditions for labor classes, proletarian revolution with complete nationalization of private property followed by dramatic increase in productivity that would allow ridding of division of labor and return to earthly paradise that they believed existed in form of primitive communism, all these proved to be wrong, however they still remaining popular among pseudo intellectual products of western universities. Author also allocates lots of space to discussion of Marx’s anti-Semitism as expression of his believe in direct link from Jewish religion and culture to capitalism and it’s most ugly in his opinion form-usury. Author points out that Marxism spawn two main political movements: communist movement – virulent and deadly murderous produced Soviet and Chinese communist systems that practically self-destruct by the end of XX century due to economic non-performance, while other relatively benign social democratic movement is still with us, albeit in continuously weakening form.

CHAPTER EIGHT – MATHEW ARNOLD: WEANING THE PHILISTINE FROM THE DRUG OF BUSINESS: Life Among the Philistines and Hebraists; Arnold’s Critique; The Roles of the Intellectual

This chapter is about a lot less known contemporary of Marx – Arnold, who actually produced much more potent anti-capitalism ideas. The main potency of his ideas came from his suggestion to leave commerce more or less alone and direct main efforts to domination of intellectual areas of society especially education and control over government. His vision was of society with lowly materialistic part producing wealth, while superior intellectuals would form upper class controlling and directing use of this wealth in “common interest” including limiting levels of production is they feel it necessary. Arnold ideas, while initially overshadowed by Marxism, seems to be feeding current elitist anti-capitalism movements around western world substituting to large extent discredited ideas of socialism.

CHAFFER NINE – WEBER, SIMMEL, AND SOMBART: COMMUNITY, INDIVIDUAIX1T, AND RATIONAITY: Setting the Terms; Commercial Transformation; Weber: Efficiency and Disenchantment; Simmel: Money and Individuality; The Dialectics of Means and Ends; Sombart: Blaming it on Jews; The World War as Turning Point

This chapter looks at three German thinkers who provided influential prospective on capitalism and its development. Weber linked capitalism to Protestantism and its ethics. He maintained that capitalism was the most effective method of production, but culturally deficient because it distracted people from pursuing greatness of their nation. Simmel also mainly supported capitalism but he believed that it represents triumph of means over ends. He believed that by making people to spend lots of intellectual efforts on making money capitalism diminished their ability to spend these efforts to achieve nobler objectives. The third German thinker Sombart hated capitalism. As usual it comes together with hate to the most capitalistic people – Jews, destroyers of everything beautiful, cultural, and with their attraction to lowly commercial activities antithesis to noble militaristic high culture of German people.

CHAPTER TEN – LUKACS AND FREYER: FROM THE QUEST FOR COMMUNITY TO THE TEMPTATIONS OF TOTALITY: From Intellectual to Revolutionary; Educator of the Revolution; The Party as Community; Freyer: Alienation and the Quest for Community; The Particularist Critique of the Market; War, the State, and the Preservation of Cultural Particularity; Revolution from the Right?

This chapter is about another couple of German thinkers – enemies of capitalism. Both of them hated economic and political freedom of common men, both of them supported big government control over economy, both of them had vision of united community led to progress by wise leaders. The small difference was that one of them Lukacs was Jewish and another one Freyer was not. Consequently one of these philosophical twins, the Jewish one, become communist and another one – national-socialist. One particularly interesting legacy of the communist thinker Lukacs is idea of capitalism as system of illusion that deprives regular people of ability to understand their own interests. So these poor souls mistakenly believe that their best interest is to have good home, abundance of goods and services, and good live overall, while in reality their real interest is to work themselves to death on some great project of communism. Obviously only individuals with superior intellectuals power are capable to understand this real interest and lead stupid masses in correct direction. For both of these guys there is no limitation on methods used to achieve their “noble” goals so deception, violence, and anything else conceivable is a fair play.

CHAPTER ELEVEN- SCHUMPETER: INNOVATION AND RESENTMENT

Creativity and Resentment in Schumpeter’s Early Writings; The Birth of Irony form Catastrophe; From Prosperity to Depressions; Schumpeter’s Analysis of the Depression and New Deal; Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy; The Role of Intellectuals

This chapter is a very interesting view at Schumpeter that I really did not think about when reading his works. While being very strong defender of capitalism and promoter of idea of creative destruction Schumpeter writes a lot about inevitability of socialism and how it could work (Interestingly he was not able to find way for socialism to work well economically). The point made here is that Schumpeter actually used irony to get through intellectual defenses of socialism and big government ideas build in through educational system of indoctrination into minds of vast majority of people.

CHAPTER TWELVE – FROM KEYNES TO MARCUSE: AFFLUENCE AND ITS DISCONTENTS: The Paradox of Keynes; The New Affluence and the End of Ideology; The European Roots of Markuse’s Thought; Redefining Oppression as Repression. Domination Through Sex and Affluence

This chapter reviews ideas of Keynes and Marcuse. The first one creating pseudo scientific justification of big government that intellectuals were looking for to justify their continuous struggle to grab more power, while the second one developing somewhat weird combination of sexual obsession with economical and political issues. Both these thinkers are intellectually of low grade, but they both got fame and money by meeting not too discrete needs in intellectual justification and sophistry of government bureaucrat and hormonally challenged teenage baby boomers. It makes sense that when baby boomers get older and somewhat less obsessed with sex, Marcuse was discarded, while Keynes ideas alive and well despite being proved wrong many times over both in theory and practice. The obvious reason for continuing presence of these failed ideas is their value for government bureaucracies as justification of their resource redistribution activities.

CHAFFER THIRTEEN – FRIEDRICH HAYEK: UNTIMELY LIBERAL: The Making of a Liberal; Vienne Liberalism, the Jews, and the Defense of Creative Minorities; Rent Control and the Hazards of State Intervention; Socialism, Planning, and the Functions of the Market; The Critique of “Social Justice” and the Hazards of the Welfare State; The Intellectuals Again. The Hayekian Moment; The Tensions and Limits of Hayek’s Thought

The final chapter is about Frederick Hayek and his ideas about technical impossibility of socialism as effective economic system due to complexity of knowledge and information flows in contemporary society, the problem resolved quite satisfactory by capitalism using free pricing of goods and services. It does mention Ludwig Von Mises as economist who was the first conclusively proving this in his works, but allocates a lot more attention to Hayek as the most effective promoter of the view of capitalism as the greatly superior economic system and free market as one and only method of effective and efficient resource allocation. Hayek also provided effective critic of welfare state developing intellectual ammunition for conservative movement of 1980s that partially reversed economic decline of western democracies. Author also stresses Hayek’s shortcoming especially in his exaggeration of consequences of limitation on market forces. So far welfare state and growth of bureaucracies did not bring us back to serfdom, it just made economy sclerotic, population well fed, but limited in its endeavors by economic stagnation caused by regulations, even if somewhat compensated by flow of new technological toys providing entertainment and distraction.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion author provides a few pages of very good and brief review of intellectual thought in some 20 points from “Centrality of the Market” to “Vital Tensions” of human lives and their change in capitalist societies.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a great review of capitalism related western thought for last 300 some years written from point of view sympathetic to capitalism, but with deep understanding of anxieties of capitalism enemies that causes continuing attacks against this economic system despite the fact that it brought unimaginable before prosperity to everybody in the world. Ironically time and again this prosperity is turned against capitalism mainly for the reason of not everybody being equally prosperous at the same time. However every time when this enmity takes over and capitalism system restricted or even destroyed in some country it always resulted in dramatic decrease in quality of life for people in this country leading sometimes after decades of misery to return to capitalism in one form or another. I believe that the only way out of this conundrum is such change in society organization that would give everyone unalienable property and therefore stake in capitalist system.


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