By Jim Craven
An old aphorism says: “A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged; and a liberal is a conservative who has been downsized or outsourced.” Indeed it is amazing how when one’s material circumstances or interests change, changes in consciousness may soon follow. But the relationships between material being and interests and subjective consciousness are not one way or as one way as many vulgar materialists would have it. Indeed all of human history gives ample evidence of individuals and groups driven by transcendent causes and beliefs accomplishing heroic, often near impossible, things with very meager material resources to work with.
At an “International Symposium on the Reform of Property Rights and Enterprise Development in Transitional Countries”, held at Tsinghua University in Beijing, September 1-2, 2004, at which I was one of the invited speakers, an interesting and very revealing exchange took place during the question and answer period following one session of presentations.
Some of the neoclassical-economics-based speakers, with the usual hubris of end-of-history triumphalism, asserted as “proved”, or “self-evident”, or “axiomatic”, backed by nothing more the mere strength or apparent certitude of their assertions, the predicate that capitalism beats socialism in all the possible ways that matter (e.g. assuring “personal liberty” of the individual, “efficiency”, “satisfying” “consumer preferences”, etc) I posed some questions.
I posed the following question: If anyone here were sick, perhaps gravely ill, which kind of physician would you prefer to have? Would you prefer to have a capitalist-minded/driven doctor or one like Bai Qiu En (Dr. Norman Bethune)? The implication of the question–and compound metaphor–was clear:
Would you prefer to have a capitalist-minded/driven doctor? One who:
· sees the patient, and his/her disease, as a mere commodity and instrument of profit and capital accumulation, market share and power;
· sees the patient in very narrow terms, doing only what it takes to avoid malpractice litigation, and just enough to get the patient (customer) to “feel” satisfied enough to return when another problem (perhaps even related and not caught in the original examination as is common) develops (sales–>customers–>sales);
· does what it takes to minimize costs (avoid or socialize) relative to expected revenues or maximize revenues relative to expected costs; doing only what it takes to get the “customer” (not whole and precious human being) in and out in order to maximize the potential number of patients (customers or profit instruments) in and out–and revenues and profits–per day?
· went into medicine, and chose the locations and specializations solely on the basis of the likely profit, status and power potentials with no regard to where the greatest mass needs were;
· Subject only to the “Golden Rules of Capitalism”: a) “Those who have the Gold make the rules; b) “Do unto thine competitors as thine competitors find imperative to do unto thou, but do it first and do it worst.”
Or, would you prefer a doctor like Bai Qiu En or Dr. Norman Bethune? A physician who, not only highly skilled as a physician in narrow technical terms, but:
· one with the type of revolutionary consciousness and values that leads him or her to view the patient as a total and precious human being and not simply as a patient or customer–certainly never as a mere commodity;
· one who does not view the particular pathology as a mere commodity;
· one who views each and every “patient” as a whole and precious human being to be treated as one would want one’s own loved ones–or oneself–to be treated;
· one who sees the mind and body not as a duality but as conceptual or analytical parts of an integrated and inseparable unity;
· one who sees “efficiency” not in terms of the narrow (capitalist) minimizing input (time and narrow costs) relative to “output” (relieving symptoms or “cure” in the narrow sense) but who sees and defines “efficiency” in broad, holistic and long-run terms, with probable true social not only private costs, and probable true social not only private benefits considered before acting;
· one who does what he or she does not from motives of greed, selfishness, status needs or capitalist profit/competitive imperatives, but out of a sense of dedication to the transcendent cause and a genuine desire to “serve the people heart and soul.”
Which type of doctor (or system) would you prefer to have and live under?
One of the speakers, an esteemed and rising professor from another university, not Tsinghua, obviously very “bright” and “educated” in narrow and formalistic terms, answered. With, what appeared to me to be a rather self-congratulatory and kind of “gotcha” smile, he answered:
“Well, if I was sick, and it would take me thirty years to find a doctor like Bai Qiu En, I would prefer a capitalist doctor.”
Because of time and other constraints (there was never any censorship in any form at that conference except that which inevitably occurred as a result of time constraints, the number of people who were scheduled to speak and the need to be sensitive to others who also wanted to speak) I could not answer but my blood boiled. He was doing what the many of neoclassical/neo-liberal/ ideologues typically do. They love controlling the microphone and debate (they typically only hire and promote their own kind and allow only their own ideologically-driven curricula in academia, politics, media and in other spheres). They love summarily asserting (as axiomatic, self-evident and “proved” beyond any doubt for anyone who knows anything) the core predicates of their arguments. Their argument, which is basically a set of assumptions of/for contrived syllogisms, is that in the competition (race) between capitalism and socialism, in terms all of the ways that matter for human beings, for example in the scope of provision of physicians and in the quality/efficiency of those physicians, capitalism wins over socialism every time. This is but one of the many tautologies and predicates–asserted and even engineered–as axiomatic and “proved” of that which still remains to be “proved” even in narrow neoclassical and capitalist terms.
Of course, tautologically, capitalism becomes accepted as the most “efficient” and “progressive” system, especially when the very definitions of “efficiency” and “progress” are as contrived as the syllogisms they serve, and, when they are then summarily asserted and accepted as the only possible “operational” and rhetorical definitions. Yet, as Marx, and so many others like Chairman Mao so aptly demonstrated, that capitalism, when viewed “holistically” and dialectically, with the highly probable true costs and “benefits” (social as well as private, long-run as well as short-run) realistically assessed and understood, becomes not only increasingly inefficient, but even increasingly anti-efficient and regressive. This is apparent even using the six main capitalist concepts of “efficiency” (technological, economic, productive, consumer, exchange and allocative) and “utilitarian” notions of “progress” (the greatest economic welfare for the greatest number).
Let’s take some concrete examples that even the neoclassicals admit in a limited sense. Even the conventional textbooks in economics concede, finally, that, for example, the notion of technological efficiency (maximum output, minimum input) or economic efficiency (maximum Total Revenues, lowest possible Total Costs) coupled with greed and the imperatives of competition between capitals, leads to inefficiencies in terms of “exchange efficiency” (P=MSC=MSB or prices reflecting all true costs and benefits–social as well as private). A common example is when profit maximizing firms pollute the environment, or free-riding increases, in unregulated markets, less and less are true costs (marginal private costs plus marginal costs of negative externalities) assessed and paid by those who receive the true benefits. Similarly, less and less are true benefits (marginal private benefits plus marginal benefits of positive externalities) received by those who pay the true costs. Typically, when negative externalities are not recognized and/or assessed and/or paid, inefficiencies (in capitalist terms) of overproduction and under pricing result, And when positive externalities are not recognized and/or assessed and/or paid, the inefficiencies of underproduction and under pricing result.
This is but one example out of many of the imperatives and “logic” of capitalism resulting in self-negation of “efficiency” (anti-efficiency) and “progress” (instability/regression) even in narrow and contrived capitalist terms. Instead of being a system that once produced maybe six positives for each negative, as capitalism ripens, becoming imperialism, spreading globally, it increasingly produces maybe six negatives for every one positive. The meta-contradiction governing all modes of production, between continual development of productive forces for human survival on the one hand, versus increasingly regressive and sabotaging relations of production (e.g. class/strata/interests) on the other hand, steadily intensifies and hollows out the very foundations of the system itself.. And not only does capitalism become less and less “efficient”, even in capitalist terms, as it ripens, but capitalist constructs and methods of assessment of “efficiency” themselves, in their contrived limits and ideological purposes, produce other inefficiencies not even considered or measured until they come home to roost and threaten the survival of the planet and humankind itself–like Global Warming and Nuclear War.
So in other words, the different capitalist forms and constructs of “efficiency” are potentially—and actually—contradictory and self-negating: e.g. technological and economic efficiencies cause, via the normal imperatives and “logic” of capitalism, inefficiencies and anti-efficiencies in terms of other forms of “efficiency–say exchange efficiency. Many probable true costs (private plus social) go unmentioned, and/or not properly assessed and/or “socialized” to be paid by those who receive none of the purported benefits. Many probable true benefits (private plus social) go unmentioned and/or not properly assessed and/or not paid for by “free riders” who get benefits without paying true costs.
In a system like Capitalism, that not only celebrates but even requires, for its expanded reproduction, greed, selfishness, ultra-individualism, narcissism, clinical psychopathy, sociopathy, competition, short-run thinking, ultra-reductionism etc: “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die”. Everyone appears to want, and Capitalism certainly promises through seductive social capital, the gain without the pain, the benefits without the costs, the immortality without mortality. So true costs (private plus social) typically get hidden, un-assessed, not mentioned, or socialized, while true benefits (private plus social) often get privatized, understated and concentrated.
Take Capitalist-based commodified law. In the profit-based legal system of Capitalism, it is about winning and losing and having the money for commodified “effective representation”. The discovery of truth or administration of justice do not enter the equations and calculations of efficiency and profitability. Typically, competition and profit imperatives, along with the rewards for “winning”, cause lawyers to hide and understate the inculpatories (negatives) and hyping and magnifying the exculpatories (positives) in their own cases, while trying to do the reverse to the opposition lawyers: magnifying their negatives while minimizing their positives. The inevitable and increasing result or typical “efficiencies” of capitalist-based and commodified law is that increasingly many rich and clearly guilty can buy acquittals, while many poor and clearly innocent wind up in prison and on Death Row.
Let’s take one more example to drive home the point. Another form of “efficiency” in neoclassical theory is called “Consumer Efficiency”. It means that the consumer has “efficiently” allocated his/her income among competing commodities such that he/she cannot reallocate that income and improve, in net terms, his/her total utility gained from the4 spending of that income. It is assumed that the consumer is driven to maximize or at least “satisfice” total utility and to do that the consumer seeks to maximize Marginal Utility gained from consuming a particular commodity X relative to what was paid (Price of X) to obtain that marginal utility (Maximizing Mux/Px or “Utility Bang for the Buck”). When the Mux/Px = Muy/Py = Muz/Pz for example, the consumer can no longer consume less of x, y or z and more of another, and improve his/her total utility gained.
But the imperatives of capitalism (commodification, effective competition, realization of maximum possible real, after-tax, risk-adjusted surplus value, accumulation of capital, maximization of productivity, expanded market share/power etc) lead to increasingly commodified and asymmetrically-available information and fraud against consumers that compromise “consumer efficiency” (MUx/Px= MUy/Py = MUz/Pz…Consumers, among the masses who are not “connected”, increasingly have less and less access to the requisite information necessary to assess true comparative marginal utilities relative to comparative prices paid to realize those utilities so that incomes cannot be reallocated and improve net total utilities gained). As for the concept “allocative efficiency”(no “person” can be made better off without making some “person” worse off), that is the pure metaphysics of Pareto masquerading as “science”.
Back to the conference. One reason my blood boiled when I heard this flippant and rhetorical answer from this esteemed professor is that I come from a people, Blackfoot, who like Indigenous Peoples everywhere, and indeed poor people everywhere in the U.S. and elsewhere, are surrounded by technically skilled–and no so skilled–physicians that exist, in the sense of physically existing at a certain time and space, but, for the poor, do not really exist in any meaningful way. Since these doctors are driven by capitalist imperatives and associated requisite mentalities, these doctors only exist for those with sufficient incomes to pay for their services and/or who do not live on isolated Reserves/Reservations or rural areas, with no transportation, and are unable to travel to see these doctors. If I am ill, and the most highly-skilled physician in the world is practicing down the street, what good is it to me that capitalism, capitalist “values” and capitalist imperatives, produced a physician who will not see me and treat me because I am poor? Better that physician does not exist as his or her existence, in the physical sense, will only piss me off and perhaps even exacerbate my illness due to the mind-body unity. In the U.S., an estimated 44 million people have no health insurance, another 37 million have only marginal health insurance, and since the “right to life” itself (like the right to justice etc) is itself a commodity, for sale only to those that can afford it under capitalism, what does capitalism REALLY deliver and for whom?. What good is the supposed rapid development of material forces or production that capitalism allegedly produces greater than socialism when those forces produce commodities (and derivative spread effects) only for a relative few? Even in China, we find that with the spread of markets and market based “medicine”, those who formerly had access to at least basic health care are now losing it.
Dr. Bethune, a product of the capitalist systems of Canada and England in terms of his medical training, and by his own admission, in terms of his early ideas of reformism, developed his technical skills not, primarily BECAUSE of capitalist-based education and medical practice, but IN SPITE of them. Even in his own case, when he was ill with Tuberculosis, the conventional medical practice, highly risk-aversive to “guarantee success” in narrow capitalist terms, refused him the emerging and experimental technique of pneumothorax (collapsing the lung to rest the infected lung) such that he had to self-administer the technique–on himself while awake. Dr. Bethune’s own inventions, of techniques and instruments still being used in thoracic surgery today, all came from his own humanitarianism and revolutionary consciousness without any regard as to the potential “profitability” or income/status-enhancing results of his inventions. It was the imperatives and “logic” of capitalist-based medicine in the days of Dr. Bethune, as is the case today in many areas, that caused the choking-off and even regression of the development of the material forces and techniques of production in medicine. Dr Bethune’s innovations–in instruments and techniques–that actually reduced costs, risks to patients and increased “efficiency”, even in capitalist terms, were consistently resisted by the capitalist-minded/driven medical establishment of his time; the same applies today.
Another reason my blood boiled when I heard the answer to my question from this esteemed professor is that capitalism only develops certain productive forces more rapidly than socialism.
The basic questions for all modes of production and social formations are: What, How, For Whom, Where, When, Why (to produce and distribute). The What question is critical because it leads to and shapes the answers to the other questions. But in capitalist terms, efficiency means producing more and more of output X with less and less inputs but never gets into the actual nature of output X and implications (private and social) of that output. So if grotesque pornography is the output, and it is “legal”, then “efficiency” means producing more and more pornography using less and less inputs, focusing ONLY on present likely revenues versus costs, ignoring any other possible or probable private and social costs associated with pornography. A capitalist enterprise producing pornography at lower total costs than a socialist enterprise producing mass-affordable medicines is said to be more “efficient”…
Because capitalism is about profits for power and power for profits (like the slogan of the Medici family: “Money to Acquire Power; Power to Protect Money), and is about “effective” demand (purchasing power or “dollar votes” to back up tastes and preferences many of which are also created and conditioned for profit, and not natural from basic subsistence needs), capitalism does a great job in developing forces of production in areas like: superficial and soul-destroying forms of “entertainment”; dope; pornography; rigging elections; allowing rich criminals to escape justice; narcissistic sports events; mansions and toys for the rich; placing clones in government; “quality education” for the few who can afford it; “quality” medicine for the few that can afford it; weapons of death and destruction; instruments of mind and soul control and manipulation (advertising); specialty foods; “high-fashion” clothing for the few; unevenly developed infrastructure; etc. But in such areas as affordable housing for the many, basic health care available to all, universal access to education, basic medicines available to all, balanced development of infrastructure, minimizing social costs of private endeavors and maximizing social benefits of private endeavors, etc socialism beats capitalism anytime.That is, when real socialism is allowed to develop without aggression and subversion–outside and inside–from imperialist machinations and the old weeds of capitalism threatening the full, free and fair development of socialism and free competition of ideas and systems–capitalism versus socialism.
The socialist, on the other hand, looks not only at levels and productive functions of costs or inputs, or utility functions of consumers consuming, including the nature and implications of WHAT is being produced or consumed, but, also, looks at the real costs (private plus social, on the individual as well as on society, political, social, cultural, ideological, spiritual, long-run as well as short run) of WHAT it is that is being produced, and HOW it is really being produced and FOR WHOM it is really being produced.
Extending the metaphor from medicine, if, as is quite common, and sadly is increasingly common, a person goes through an operation that is botched, requiring a second or third operation to fix what went wrong in the first operation (like leaving surgical instruments in the patient, unqualified staff, operation rushed to get more patients through a given operating room per day–capitalist “efficiency”), then the real costs of a given procedure (for purposes of assessing level of “efficiency”) should include the costs of the second and third procedures necessitated by the first botched one. In the U.S., with touted as having the most “advanced” and “efficient” medicine in the world, 100,000 patients die each year from hospital-based infections. Under capitalism, each procedure would be assessed independently in terms of assessing the “costs” relative to the “benefits” and in any comparisons of capitalist versus socialist efficiency. But, if, in accordance with the old adage, “a stitch in time saves nine”, we are able to conceptualize and assess all true costs and true benefits (short-run versus long-run, private plus social), the case can be made that socialism, with communist revolutionary values and practices, will beat capitalism, even in terms of “efficiency” and even in terms of capitalist constructs and calculations of “efficiency.” Certainly Bai Qiu En, under the most unfavorable conditions possible, driven by communist spirit and consciousness, was able to do medically, what capitalist minded-driven physicians under the most favorable conditions would have never been able to do.
And the imperialists understand this well. This one of the main reasons for imperialist encirclement and social systems engineering campaigns: to engineer the predicate or conditions and constraints in present or emerging socialist social formations that will never allow free competition and debate between systems and ideologies; conditions and constraints that will make socialism look like the supposed “barbarism” and “inefficiency” portrayed by bourgeois ideology.
This leads to another reason my blood boiled when I heard this answer from this esteemed professor: Why does someone have to teach this “educated” and “bright” Chinese professor basic Chinese–and world–history as well as about some present-day realities and irrefutable facts? In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels, in reference to China, and of course other places as well, noted that colonialism (and imperialism) is a force that ‘batters down all Chinese walls’, and is one that ‘compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e. to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.’ ( Marx and Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party” (1848) in “Selected Works”, Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1950, pp. 36-37; quoted in “Mao’s China and After 3rd Edition, by Maurice Meisner, The Free Press, NY. 1999, p 5)
When has there ever been free, fair and open competition between socialist versus capitalist systems or ideas? From the very beginning of the People’s Republic of China (actually long before), as was the case of Cuba, USSR, DPRK, Albania, Vietnam, etc and so many other examples of socialism, socialist societies, often inheriting horrible conditions and legacies of imperialism and colonialism, have been subject to: imperialist embargos; outright threats of nuclear annihilation; social systems engineering and destabilization campaigns; covert operations; exacerbations of historical ethnic and religious rivalries; denials of critical technologies and resources; military aggression; cultural subversion; arrogant missionaries; forced importations of drugs and soul-destroying foreign “culture”; denial of access to international organizations and the global community of nations,; coup d’etats and overthrows of sovereign and freely-elected governments; assassination campaigns, etc etc etc. All of this was designed to destabilize, overthrow and never to allow developing— and showing the superiority over capitalism of– socialist systems, values and ideas.
If international recognition by the imperialist powers and the international organizations they control is some kind of test of the reality, existence and legitimacy of any nation or nation state, then the People’s Republic of China (portions of which still remain occupied by foreign powers–e.g. Taiwan) did not “exist” for almost thirty years after its existence in reality (and under international law). The same apples to Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and other nation states summarily and arrogantly not “recognized” by some imperialist powers. This has caused large-scale diversions of precious resources from socialist growth and development into necessary defense against imperialist machinations. Indeed this was the object of imperial social systems engineering and aggression all along: engineering, to make “axiomatic” and self-evident, the basic tautologies, predicates and syllogisms of imperialism:
IF, A=B; and
IF, Country A (say China or Cuba for example) = System B (Socialism or Communism);
IF, System B (Socialism or Communism) = C (Inefficiency, Repression…)
The answer according to neoliberals and other kinds of imperialists and their stooges? For China or Cuba or other socialist systems to become “Developing”, “Efficient”, “non-Repressive”, “non-Terrorist” etc, the only answer is to become like the U.S. or some other imperialist power asserted to be the opposites in the above-mentioned syllogism of imperialist repression and legitimation. And the imperialists have no limits. Just imagine, for but one example: Even before World War II was over, the Class-A War Criminals of the infamous Japanese fascist Unit 731 were all shielded from prosecution by the U.S. and its allies (in return for using the fruits of their barbaric “research”) and one of them even became a Prime Minister of Japan; and the same was done with shielding German Nazi war criminals before the end of World War II, while the nominal allies of the U.S., who had saved many U.S. lives (Communists in China and Soviets in Europe) were being attacked by the U.S. and its allies using wanted war criminals from the formal enemies of the U.S. and its allies. There are simply no limits to the treachery and crimes the imperialists are prepared to undertake and cover-up in what they call “World War III of Contending Systems and Ideologies—Socialism versus Capitalism—For Global Hearts and Minds”.
These are but some of the reasons my blood boiled when I heard that answer from the esteemed professor, not from Tsinghua University, to my question when I attended the symposium at Tsinghua University. When I return, this debate, no doubt, will continue, in another venue and forum. And this response will be passed on to that professor with an invitation to debate in a forum and venue when we both have ample access and time for the microphone.
Jim Craven (Omahkohkiaayo i’poyi)