In a capitalist economy, those who own the majority of property set the terms for everyone else

…and in the process, prevent most of the rest of us from setting the terms of how we would like to live

No 826 Posted by fw, August 12, 2013

“…the journey that I personally took, and, of course, others take…who move left, take this journey. And the journey we take essentially is come to the root of the question why are things the way they are? … if you try to understand how the system is operating, you can have a much more complete, much more robust picture. You can understand, for instance, how the fact that small numbers of people arrogate to themselves the right to hold property…and because they hold property, they’re able to disenfranchise people and make people make judgments based on the fact that they have no property. So then I, having no property, have to come to you who have property and say, give me a job, and then you set the terms in which I’m employed…. You know, that is the root problem of how inequality is, you know, you know, constantly reproduced in our society, that those with property get to set the terms by which the rest of society lives. And, you know, if you don’t come to that, if you don’t grasp that…then you’ve not understood how we can constantly have discussions…about how to solve poverty. Can we raise enough money to solve poverty? Well, you can raise a lot of money, you can eradicate malaria, you can give to people, you know, a laptop computer, but they’re still not able to set the terms themselves of how they should live.”Vijay Prashad

Paul Jay and Vijay Prashad discuss the limits imposed on questioning the roots of inequality and how those who own the majority of property set the terms for everyone else.

Click on the following linked title to see the original interview and access the complete transcript. Alternatively, watch the 26:44-minute embedded video below along with an edited and greatly abridged transcript with added subheadings and text highlighting. Note — The abridged transcript ends at the 11:41-minute mark of the video.

Questioning the Underlying Structures of Property and Power is “Off the Table” – Pt 2 of 4, The Real News, August 9, 2013

Bio: Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College and this year’s Edward Said Chair at the American University at Beirut. Among the many books he has authored are The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World and Arab Spring, Libyan Winter. His most recent book is The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South. He also writes regularly for Asia Times Online, Frontline magazine and Counterpunch.

ABRIDGED TRANSCRIPT

Lots of people are distressed about the way of the world but don’t understand why or what they can do about it

I don’t judge somebody coming to that conclusion — [i.e. that all I can really do is look after myself, look after my family perhaps, maybe those close to me, but I can't do anything else really about the rest of the world, so sort of to hell with it, except maybe some nice rhetoric] — because it’s a way to survive. A lot of people will say, I’m distressed with the world, I see that it’s not going anywhere, I see that any contribution from me is Band-Aid, notional, whatever. We’ll do some of it just to maintain our humanity, but then we’ll go ahead and live our lives, you know, the way we would like to. I don’t judge that. [If] somebody wants to make that decision, that’s their decision.

I had a different road, largely because I think the disillusionment with liberalism came early in my life.

The problem with “liberalism” is that any questioning of the foundations of capitalism is off the table

…classical liberals will say [liberalism] is about having individual rights and individual freedoms, which actually amounts to the right of property to assert itself in the world. And so from classical liberalism you come back to [the principle] that property is inviolable, you cannot change the relations of property, in other words, we won’t question the foundations of capitalism, if we keep that off the table, all we can do is change a few things, make a few people happier. And, you know, again, given the context in which–how harsh the world is, it’s very hard to begrudge people from having a little joy in their lives.

…liberalism says that changing the structures of the world, that’s off the table; everything else can be discussed.

With the foundations of capitalism off the table, we can’t fully understand the very nature of our predicament

But [that excludes] the most important aspect for discussion, which is how did things get here. And in that sense, the journey that I personally took, and, of course, others take–you know, people who move left take this journey — and the journey we take essentially is come to the root of the question why are things the way they are.

Typically, the right wing wants to keep the roots of the problem buried

I mean, that is why generally the word radical should be kept for the left. You can’t really have right-wing radicals, because radicalism in its origin means getting to the root of something. And typically the right don’t get to the root of things. You know, they want to keep the roots buried and deal with surface phenomena. But because there is a temptation in some of us to go to the root of the question, to ask the basic question…

Marx et al. saw the flaws and incompleteness of contemporary liberalism, and socialist and utopian thinking

…why does something become the way it does? And here the thinking of somebody like Marx is crucial, because Marx’s general approach to the world runs through what I would consider liberal ideology. I mean, one of Marx’s early books written with Friedrich Engels was The German Ideology, where they took the best mainstream thinking of the time in Germany, the best liberals, the best what in those years would have been socialist, utopian socialist, etc., they took the best thinkers, and they demonstrated how they were incomplete. They were not able to see what was driving, you know, inequality in the world. You know, Charles Dickens saw that there was inequality in the world, but what he didn’t necessarily see was why this was so, why this reproduced itself. And that was Marx’s project.

And that’s really the reason why I find Marx even today to be an earth-shattering approach. You know, his approach is earth-shattering to understand the world, because it suggests that if you go through liberalism, you can understand its incompleteness.

Small numbers of people arrogating to themselves the right to hold property creates inequality 

And then if you try to understand how the system is operating, you can have a much more complete, much more robust picture. You can understand, for instance, how the fact that small numbers of people arrogate to themselves the right to hold property, you know, and because they hold property, they’re able to disenfranchise people and make people make judgments based on the fact that they have no property, so then I, having no property, have to come to you who have property and say, give me a job, and then you set the terms in which I’m employed.

You know, that is the root problem of how inequality is, you know, you know, constantly reproduced in our society, that those with property get to set the terms by which the rest of society lives.

“Unless people are able to set the terms in which they can live, they’re not going to be free.”

And, you know, if you don’t come to that, if you don’t grasp that, which is the essence of Marxism, then you’ve not understood how we can constantly have discussions, every generation can have a discussion about what to do with poverty, you know, how to solve poverty. Can we raise enough money to solve poverty? Well, you can raise a lot of money, you can eradicate malaria, you can give to people, you know, a laptop computer, but they’re still not able to set the terms themselves of how they should live. And that is the core lesson of Marxism. Unless people are able to set the terms in which they can live, they’re not going to be free.

Extreme privatization drives up North American labour and drives jobs to cheap labour locations

Right now, American workers have to bid up their wages so that American workers are much more expensive than workers in many parts of the world. You know, that is why corporations prefer to source their labor from outside the United States. There is no necessary reason for American labor to be this expensive. One of the reasons American labor is so expensive is that everything is privatized, you know, that I am responsible for insurance for transportation, for health care, for my children’s, you know, everything. So because everything is privatized, the bill is with me. So I have to bid up my wages.

A “What If” vision

Wages [here] are not going [up]. So you put a lot of pressure on individual households to deal with the basic facts of life. If on the other hand we had excellent public transportation, decent health care, good schooling, you know, decent schooling, if these things were provided by the state, if there were some socialization of these things, then we would not need to bid up, you know, or put pressure on wages in order to survive. We could put pressure on wages because we want to have an imagination, we want to have more leisure, you know, we want to enjoy our lives, not just for survival.

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