Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chomsky Quick-Hitter

In checking out the youtubes for Buckley, I watched the first few minutes of one on Chomsky alone. Link here, but I'm not embedding. It is a great example of bullying. A student rather timidly asks whether the rising standard of living under capitalism isn't an argument in its favor? Chomsky counters by noting that standard of living for slaves rose from the 18th C to the 19th - would that be an argument in favor of slavery? That's a terrible argument, he claims.

Well it was a new argument and caught me by surprise, so in one-on-one debate in such a situation I would surely have looked a fool and seemed to have lost the argument. But it took me only two minutes on my own to see the hole in it. Think of it - one of the supposed great minds of our era, puts forth an argument with a sneer and encouragement to the audience to laugh, and a non-expert such as myself, who has never considered the issue, can strike it down almost immediately.

No, you knucklehead, that wouldn't be an argument in favor of slavery. It would be a particularly good argument in favor of capitalism. Your own example destroys your argument. We can fairly assume that not all slaveowners had the wellbeing of their slaves in mind, except insofar as it protected their investment. (Some may have, but let us stay with the safe bet that many did not.) Even without anyone trying to raise their standard of living - even with people actively working against it and trying to extract as much work for as little cost as possible, you reveal that slave standard of living rose, at least compared to their earlier generations. Yet it did not rise in non-free market places. In fact, it's not much better in many places of the Caribbean now, two hundred years later. You have made a powerful argument in favor of the student's point.

One might well contend that some other system might have done better. One might fairly claim that even rising standard of living isn't enough to remotely justify slavery. We could all provide examples of how it still wasn't fair. Fine. But by Chomsky's own example, capitalism did improve the lives of even the poorest, almost accidentally, as a byproduct of working for the economy as a whole. I could hardly make a better argument in favor of the free market than the one he made against it.

1 comment:

JC said...

The phrase you're looking for is:
"A rising tide raises all boats".
You're welcome