ParEcon Questions & Answers

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Capitalism and class?

fWhat about class in capitalism? What are they, what’s the problem?

In a capitalist economy, pretty much everyone agrees two classes, at least, contend — the working and the owning class. The former, called the working class, owns only its own capacities and sells its ability to do work. It obeys the dictates of its employer. It takes home wages.

The latter, called the capitalist class, owns means of production and hires workers, for wages, dictating their activities. It takes home profits.

In a pareconist perception, however, clarity requires additional concepts.

Classes are groups defined by their position in the economy such that they have different and even mutually incompatible interests. They encounter one another as obstacles to be dealt with in pursuit of well being. They develop contending world views and agendas, and even cultures and manners.

It is certainly true that owning means of production as compared to not owning means of production does convey a special position with commanding features…defining an owning or capitalist class. And yes, there is also a working class, essentially without any influence over outcomes other than what it can demand by self organization and struggle. It is obedient and subordinate when operating within the dictates of the economy. But, that two class map is not the end of the story.

Among all those who work some do virtually exclusively onerous and obedient labor. They do not become empowered by their labors but only weakened by them. These workers are rightly and usefully labelled the working class. They include about 80% of all non capitalists.

Another group, however, about 20% of all non capitalists, does largely empowering tasks. They have considerable say over their own circumstances and over the conditions and options of workers below. They gain their power, status, and higher incomes by way of having a virtual monoply control over information, skills, knowledge, and positions relevant to daily economic choices and decisions. These monopolists of empowering circumstances are together called the coordinator class and include managers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and so on.

So the class map is capitalists in ruling position, coordinators in part administering for them and in part pursuing their own independent interests, and workers at the bottom, doing as well as possible via their organizations and struggle.

What is the problem with having three classes?

Capitalist class relations produce gigantic disparities of income, wealth, influence, status, culture, and power that in turn ensure constant struggle and divergence of energies and talents from useful production to maintaining class hierarchy. The disparities are grossly immoral as in millions being homeless, many more millions being poor — and a relative few owning vast stores of items allowing comfort and status.

The divergences are grossly inefficient. Society loses much of the productive capacity of the working class due to its being robbed of initiative and “dumbed down” so it cannot manifest its actual talents and due to its struggling and witholding rather than producing by virtue of its opposition to those above. Society also loses even quite a lot of the productive capacity of the coordinator class due to its spending much effort defending its prerogatives and seeking to expand them even against the greater good.

  Next Entry: Socialism’s Classes?


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