The freedom to amass Capital breeds inequality and exploitation

Accumulation
Image by Annemarie Vriends via Flickr

A new member of the audience has asked me to expand on a previous comment I made where I mentioned in passing the phrase that is the title of this post. I think this warrants some expansion.

When we are talking about Capital we are talking generally about non-trivial means of production, factories and the like. These are things which the owner has no capability to use himself but has rather used the laws of private property to prevent others from using themselves.

The sole reason why any person would ever want to withhold a productive facility from being used freely, is if he wishes to force the people who would work there, to be exploited. What, in effect the Capitalist is doing is preventing the use of the factory which creates the passive coercion necessary for people to accept exploitation. To simplify this example, think of it as a person moving into an oasis and buying up the land the water rests in. That person then gives the people who live around the oasis the choice to either work 16 hours per day for him in the nearby coal mines or die of thirst.

Giving people the freedom to “buy the water” so to speak, is what allows them to exploit other people.

The inequality of this accumulation rises naturally in this situation. Under Capitalism money is power and Capital is the only way to turn money into more money. The more Capital one owns, the more money one makes. And when one has more power over other humans, this is inequality. This inequality is what skews all market exchanges and makes them unfair. Unfair to the benefit of those who have the Capital of course. There is a reason why the poor get poorer and the rich, richer and this is it.

It is this inequality that creates the misery in our society, not the bogeyman of the state or the caricature evil of organized religion. Both of these are toothless if no person in life has power over another person. Take away the state and leave the relations of Capitalism intact and almost immediately, new lords will arise, either through force of arms, or through force of ownership.

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16 thoughts on “The freedom to amass Capital breeds inequality and exploitation

  1. To simplify this example, think of it as a person moving into an oasis and buying up the land the water rests in. That person then gives the people who live around the oasis the choice to either work 16 hours per day for him in the nearby coal mines or die of thirst.

    Giving people the freedom to “buy the water” so to speak, is what allows them to exploit other people.

    Without a police force to coercively prevent people from drinking the water, his ownership means nothing. He can't "buy up" the land, he has to take it by force. For some odd* reason Libertarians and AnCaps don't count this as the "initiation of coercion."

    *Sarcasm. It's not odd at all.

    1. The counter-argument to this would be that if someone buys it, then the people selling it have agreed to part with it and must abide by this decision. The spanner in this reasoning is from the question "how come these people get to own this land before and then sell it?" which generally falls into the problem of primitive accumulation.

  2. The person actually selling it might (or might not) be obliged to abide by the decision, but what about everyone else? The whole concept of ownership, especially of ownership of property one does not physically possess, requires either universal consent (and why would people consent to a social structure that allows them to be exploited?) or the use of coercion to establish that ownership vs. those who do not consent.

  3. Certainly one of the largest tragedies of our history is how humans have been convinced that they should play part in the game of private property and defend it as if it's actually in their best interest. Still, that's the situation today and we need to talk in these facts. How we came to be in this situation is, I believe, a totally different subject.

    Assuming that those who own the land until now are accepted as legitimate owners by the rest of the people around them, then their sale of their land would "legaly" lead to exploitation.

  4. I don't think your argument is entirely flawed but the analogy of the oasis is not apt. The oasis is not a means of production, it is a resource. The case could certainly be made that ownership of resources breeds inequality but that is not what you are saying. Your argument is that ownership of the non-trivial means of production breeds inequality.

    The difference between the two is that resources exist naturally, while the means of production must be created. If the means of production cannot be created by the workers but cannot be worked by the owners, then each is beholden to the other. An unused factory is just as useless to the owner as not having a factory is to the worker.

    1. We can easily replace the lake here with a factory that is producing the commodities necessary for the life of the people around the place. The metaphor would still remain. The argument is that by allowing people to accumulate Capital, you allow them to set the terms of any contract.

      The Capitalist as you say may need the worker to produce something, but not as much as the worker needs the job. If the Capitalist keeps the factory closed for a few days or weeks, he does not have a problem. However the worker cannot go hungry for the same amount of time. In this type of "waiting game" the Capitalist is always the one who comes on top, and that is the reason why people accept wage work.

      Furthermore, the Capitalist does not need the factory at all. He could simply keep his wealth as it is. That he buys the factory has a specific reason and that is to increase his wealth through exploitation of the workers and then accumulate more capital.

      Lastly, were we to regress in history, we would find that the creation of those factories does rest indeed in the appropriation of natural resources (land mainly) and generally primitive accumulation. If you agree that the ownership of resources breeds inequality then so must the ownership of Capital which presuposses that.

      1. In the end, I think your point is the same but this is a stronger argument than your original, in my opinion.

        The real issue here is the presupposition that progress can occur with equally distributed capital. If 100 people each own 1% of the resources in an environment, it is in all of their best interests to pool their resources and build a factory (or other means of production) that they all own and can be used to improve their collective lifestyles. But what is the social structure that allows them to do it?

        Someone has to be trusted to be the final decision-maker in terms of planning and building the means of production. Inevitably, there has to be some form of leadership to which the people voluntarily submit in order to get their factory built. These leaders are given an unequal share of the burden of the society but also have power over the others because the creation of the means of production is reliant on their efforts. Assuming that the leaders have some innate or accumulated abilities and skills which put them in that position, then perhaps they were unequal with their peers from birth or through experience.

        In this way, the people always have a choice between inequality with an improved lifestyle or equality with less progress. You may find this method more appealing than the capitalist method but large-scale progress requires concentrated pools of capital in one way or another.

        1. Someone has to be trusted to be the final decision-maker in terms of planning and building the means of production. Inevitably, there has to be some form of leadership to which the people voluntarily submit in order to get their factory built.

          Were we to talk about a communal living, then granting arbiter rights to a person would not be a problem as long as this rights can be withdrawn easily. There is no problem allowing one person to make the decisions if all agree that this person if the best decision maker. There is a problem when this right cannot be revoked.

          Certainly leaders have accumulated leadership skills but the leadership position does not have to be a position of power or presuppose inequality.

          Also, there is no need to talk about everyone owning 1% or whatnot. We can simply talk about the resources belonging to the community as a whole and avoid playing around with percentages.

          1. The idea of labeling some individuals as leaders but not doing so for others is inequality. The label alone implies that there is a difference between the two sets of people and that society does not treat them equally or grant them the same responsibilities.

            By definition, a leadership position is a position of power. If a leader has no power over the people he is to lead, then he is not a leader at all. The real question seems to be whether or not the leader is deserving of his position but either way, inequality will exist.

          2. The idea of labeling some individuals as leaders but not doing so for others is inequality.

            Not any more than labeling someone a woodcutter and another one an accountant. Yes there is difference but that does not mean that they are not treated equally.

          3. The designation of some people as leaders implies that those people have a role with responsibilities that the others do not have in some particular area. They are unequal in that area even if they are completely equal in others.

            Your example lacks context. If a village is in dire need of wood for fuel, then someone labeled as a woodcutter has more responsibilities than someone labeled as an accountant. But if the village needs to apply for a loan or arrange its finances, then the accountant bears more responsibility. Alternatively, if the village needs a doctor then the two are completely equal.

            Applying the label does not imply that one person is universally better than another but in various contexts, they are not equals. A leader necessarily is unequal to the non-leaders in the context in which he leads.

          4. Look, by this definition of inequality you make the term irrelevant. Yes, of course people of different skill have more authority in their chosen profession but this does not make them inequal in the common understanding of the word.

            In a healthy community, an accountant's opinion would have much more weight on resource issues than a leader or anyone else not having a relevant experience. They are all equal in general. In this case it would mean that they are equal in the respect that all of them get more weight of opinion in situations pertaining to their chosen profession. In such a society one could even make the case that a leader is unecessary.

          5. By definition, a leadership position is a position of power. If a leader has no power over the people he is to lead, then he is not a leader at all.

            That is untrue. A leader can simply lead by popular approval. Simply people choose to follow his leadership because they recognise that it's in their best interest. The leader does not have to have power over any other person.

          6. If people choose to follow a leader, then they have allowed him to make decisions that impact their lives. When people can make decisions that impact other people's lives, that is power. The approval of the people does not diminish the power of the leader.

          7. I do not think the role of a leadr is to make decisions that impact lives. His role is to lead. Ie Point the direction a community should move towards. Wether people move towards that direction willingly or forcefully is the definition of power. If the people can simply make the leader irrelevant at any point by not following his direction, then the leader has no power over them.

  5. > I do not think the role of a leader is to make decisions that impact lives.
    I think his role is to make suggestions that the followers base the decisions on.

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