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Problems with Libertarian Theories of Class Conflict:

Most people associate the theory of class conflict with Marxism, and its view that modern society inevitably leads to a zero-sum conflict between "capitalists" and the "working class." But, ever since the 19th century, some libertarian thinkers have advanced their own theories of class conflict - ones that emphasize the division between those who bear the costs of government and those who are net beneficiaries of the state. Unfortunately, libertarian class theory has many of the same weaknesses as the Marxist version.

This recent piece by libertarian writer Sheldon Richman provides a good summary of libertarian class theory:

[T]he [19th century economic] theorists whom Marx credits with teaching him class analysis placed in the productive class all who create value through the transformation of resources and voluntary exchange. The "capitalist" . . . belongs in the industrious class along with workers. Marx didn't learn this part of the lesson.

Who are the exploiters? All who live off of the industrious class. Besides common crime, there is only one way to do that: state privilege financed by taxation. "The conclusions drawn from this . . . is that there existed an expanded class of 'industrials' (which included manual labourers and . . . entrepreneurs and savants) who struggled against others who wished to hinder their activity or live unproductively off it," Hart writes: "The theorists of industrialism concluded from their theory of production that it was the state and the privileged classes allied to or making up the state ... which were essentially nonproductive. They also believed that throughout history there had been conflict between these two antagonistic classes which could only be brought to end with the radical separation of peaceful and productive civil society from the inefficiencies and privileges of the state and its favourites"... In this view, political-economic history is the record of conflict between producers, no matter their station, and the parasitic and predatory political class, both inside and outside of government. Or to use terms of a later, British subscriber to this view, John Bright, it was a clash between the tax-payers and tax-eaters. (emphasis added).

Many libertarians find this theory appealing. So too have some nonlibertarians, such as John C. Calhoun. Unfortunately, it has serious flaws remarkably similar to those of Marxist class theory. It fails to consider the importance of collective action problems, and also ignores what political scientists call "cross-cutting cleavages."

Collective Action Problems.

Marxists have never succeded in explaining what incentive individual capitalists or workers have to advance public policies that benefit their "class" as a whole. A "procapitalist" policy that benefits the entire group is a public good shared by thousands of people, perhaps millions. Why shouldn't the individual greedy capitalist simply sit back and free ride upon the lobbying efforts of other capitalists? If they act to promote their common interest, procapitalist policies will be implemented even if an isolated individual doesn't contribute. If they don't, his individual efforts probably won't be enough to force the policy through by himself. The same point applies with even greater force to workers, a much larger group than capitalists. The average worker has even less incentive to invest time and effort in promoting proworker policies than capitalists have in promoting procapitalist ones.

What is true of Marxian classes is is also true of the libertarian theorists' "taxpayer" and "taxeater" classes. Both taxpayers and taxeaters are very large groups who have strong incentives to free ride on the lobbying efforts of their fellows. Indeed, given widespread rational political ignorance, many people probably don't even know which group they belong too. If you recognize, as Richman does, that the cost of government includes the burden of regulation and other nontax measures, while the "taxeater" class includes those who benefit from such policies, figuring out whether you are a taxpayer or taxeater becomes quite difficult, and not worth the necessary investment of most individual voters' time.

The basic economics of collective action and free-riding seriously undermines both Marxist and libertarian theories of class conflict. If anything, the latter is even weaker than the former. In Marxist theory, most people can easily tell whether they are "workers" or "capitalists"(though the existence of human capital, unrecognized by Marx, makes things more complicated). By contrast, it's often difficult to tell where one falls on the taxeater-taxpayer continuum.

Cross-Cutting Cleavages.

Get your minds out of the gutter! Unfortunately, cross-cutting cleavages have nothing to do with sex. Rather, the cross-cutting cleavage is a concept that recognizes that most people have multiple interests and identities that affect their political views. A person who considers himself a "worker" doesn't necessarily define his political identity exclusively by this characteristic. He might instead also focus on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, the particular industry he works in, and so on. Some or all of these other identities might well play a greater role in determining his political orientation than his belonging to the "working class." And, empirically, political systems divided along Marxist class lines are far less common than those where other cleavages play as much or more important roles.

The same point applies to the libertarian taxpayer/taxeater divide. For most people, this is a much less important dividing line than a variety of other conflicts. Indeed, most people are perfectly happy to favor increases in government spending and regulation for some purposes (say, morals regulation), while opposing it for others (say, welfare).

Both Marxist and libertarian class theorists like to dismiss the reality of cross-cutting cleavages by claiming that non-class based political identities are "irrational" or an example of "false consciousness." Perhaps so, though I doubt that this is necessarily true. But it is in fact perfectly rational for people to embrace irrational political ideas, because for the individual voter the cost of doing so is extremely low, and the psychic gratification of indulging in irrationality potentially much higher. Even if class-based ideology (whether Marxist or libertarian) is the most rational viewpoint for people to embrace, that doesn't prove that they actually will adopt it.

Unfortunately, libertarian class theory is no better at explaining real-world political development than the Marxist version. To the extent that many fewer people see themselves primarily as "taxpayers" and "taxeaters" than as "capitalists" or "workers," it may even be worse.

UPDATE: For some related criticisms of libertarian class theory, see this post by Bryan Caplan.

UPDATE #2: To avoid misunderstanding, I should emphasize that both Marxist and libertarian class conflict theories are empirical as well as normative. That is, they not only claim that people should base their political actions primarily on their "class" identities, but predict that most people actually will do so. If class conflict theory is correct, we should see political conflicts that largely track the class divisions that the theory in question sees as crucial (taxeater vs. taxpayer for libertarian theory; worker vs. capitalists for the Marxists). It is these empirical predictions that has been falsified by events, and that I criticize in the post. I don't consider the purely normative aspects of class theory, though obviously I have serious reservations about those too.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Bryan Caplan's "Jock/Nerd" Libertarian Theory of Class Conflict:
  2. Problems with Libertarian Theories of Class Conflict:
PersonFromPorlock:
Get somebody in office, then let the theory follow the practice. Being a debating society is how the LP has spent thirty five years going nowhere.
7.17.2007 8:49pm
King Panteen (mail):
One of the flaws in "1984" lay in the fact no one would have stayed in the party under those conditions; life as a "prole" was much better.

In U.S. society we have the money-making elites, i.e. Global Corporatists and their lackeys such as Four-Flush Rush et.al

In between are the doctors, vivisectors, professors, middle managers, smallish business and the like.

Govt. employees, high school teachers, technology-crats, etc. are next.

Then, you get to the dishwashers, clerks and janitors........

Finally, there are the disabled, the misfits and the immigrants who are taken care of (SSI, DPA, Medical Assistance and a dozen others).

We tolerate this system in fear of "from each according to his ability to each according to his needs."

There's no "class war or class envy." There are parasites such as Rush who pretend to differ. The parasites at the bottom (primarily. approx. 50,000,000 third world immigrants and Puerto Ricans are very happy.

Of course, the parasites at the top remain in Nirvana-on-Earth.

The only ones who are suffering are non-human animals, trees
and the kids getting beat up behind closed doors.

Telescreens are very, very near. It's what De-mock-ro-tinz
and Re-poob-o-krats want.

Sorry, Lib-er-tear-ee-enz.
7.17.2007 9:31pm
Jim Harper (mail) (www):
I wonder if you're over-reading the libertarian and Marxist arguments about class warfare. They do not cast members of whatever class as solely or even primarily dedicated to the class, but each to his or her self-interest. On the margin, members of the class will seek the political decisions that benefit him or her individually, and also the class.

Politics and politicians solve the collective action problem by doing the heavy lifting. Having gotten enough votes by arguing "I will increase your government benefits" or "I will reduce your taxes," they seek the betterment of the class that elected them.

Politics (especially professional politics) is the source of class warfare *and* the means of its execution, dontchyathink?
7.17.2007 9:56pm
Shelby (mail):
The "collective action problem" applies to individuals and groups seeking system-wide changes. However, there's plenty of scope for smaller changes benefiting particular rent-seekers. For example, all those earmarks going to, eg, a particular business or organization. Why should I lobby for all property-owners when I just want a highway offramp next to my office park?
7.17.2007 10:02pm
Ilya Somin:
Politics and politicians solve the collective action problem by doing the heavy lifting. Having gotten enough votes by arguing "I will increase your government benefits" or "I will reduce your taxes," they seek the betterment of the class that elected them.

I don't think that "politicians" can solve the collective action problem all by themselves. Someone has to raise money for them, do their campaign strategies for them, etc. Members of very large classes have very little incentive to do this if the goal is to provide benefits for the large class as a whole.

MOreover, even if politicians do "seek the betterment of the class that elected them," it is far from clear that that class will be defined in Marxist or libertarian terms as opposed to other, usually much narrower, ones. The latter is empirically far more common, it seems to me.
7.17.2007 11:54pm
Jim Harper (mail) (www):
An important side-note: It's not important which class people think they're in, or how they're self-perception comports with the facts. Many tax-eaters mistakenly believe themselves to be taxpayers - recipients of corporate welfare would probably wrongly self-identify as "taxpayers," for example. The class warfare argument does not depend on the fighters on either side being correct about where their self-interest lies.

Politicians solve a lot of the collective action problem, I think. A business owner votes once for a Republican candidate because of a specific interest - let's say the candidate opposes the OSHA standard that will raise costs on the business - and the representative spends the next two, four, or six years arguing for, voting for, and being log-rolled in favor of policies that (roughly) favor the class of business-owners, whether or not that per se benefits the voter that sided with him.

Careful not to overweight lobbying and campaigns on the direction of policy. Fiscal Year 2008's legislative branch appropriation will be about $3.425 billion dollars (a little over $30 per U.S. family). Assume an equivalent amount used for political control of spending and programs in the Administration. That's roughly equal to, or greater than, the $5 billion spent on federal lobbying and campaigns annually (a back-of-envelope calculation I made some time back - sorry to be so loose with numbers). Politicians would carry on nominally defending the "class" they perceive as having elected them in the absence of lobbying and campaign contributions.

The small group of people (relative to the entire population) who participate in politics through campaign contributions and lobbying are probably getting very good return on their investments. The $5 billion spent on federal lobbying and campaigns, along with the $5-7 billion controlled by voting, provides the management of some $5 trillion in taxation and spending. That's equivalent to .2% spent on management. Mutual funds devote 1% or more of assets to management. With so little management happening, a relatively small investment can probably change the deployment of a large amount of money, bringing windfall returns to the savvy players.

Each participant in the process, by the way, is not seeking the macro "good-for-taxpayers" or "good-for-tax-eaters" policy, but a narrow policy that happens to fall in one or the other class. Politicians take it the rest of the way, and pursue policies for the "class" that they perceive themselves to represent. (I'm tempted to shift course and say that there is no collective action problem at all. Rather, there's a well-functioning political market for coercive redistribution of wealth. But I'll stick with "politicians solve the collective action problem" for now.)

I'm not an economist - I could have these economic concepts wrong - and I'm just making this up as I go along, so thanks for bearing with me.
7.18.2007 2:05am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
I think this is all wrong - here's why:

Marxist "class conflict" theories on the macro level are false. They can be true in microcosm - particular wealthy individuals or groups exploiting particular less wealthy people. But on the macro level capital is needed to fund the private economy, which is the only thing that produces and which sustains everything, including the state. Everyone benefits from capital and the production and employment it creates. Look at the poor countries - many of them have lots of people, which means lots of labor. What they don't have is capital or the necessary structures to preserve capital investment, which results in poverty. Capital is a necessary ingredient to have a productive private economy to build societal wealth.

Now the libertarian "class conflict" theory makes some sense, although I'm not sure its helpful to characterize it as such. Because the "tax-eaters" eat in to capital and hamper the private economy they harm everyone. This isn't necessarily an absolute, since some state functions are necessary to have a free market - law enforcement, legal system, emergency services, etc. But to the extent those functions could be done more cheaply by private entities - if they could be done more cheaply in a similarly effective manner - they do hamper the private economy.

And note that the "tax-eaters" may even be harming themselves, because they might even benefit more economically if their rent-seeking wasn't hampering the private economy, although this is uncertain and hard to calculate.

For an interesting essay on what Mises thought about Marxist class conflict theory and how he likened it to racism and nationalism, see this link:
"The Psychological Basis of the Opposition to Economic Theory"
http://www.mises.org/epofe/c6sec2.asp
7.18.2007 2:17am
Justin (mail):
I'm not sure I agree with this, but the obvious response to American's post is such:

" But on the macro level capital resources is needed to fund the private economy, which is the only thing that produces and which sustains everything, including the state. Everyone benefits from capital resources and the production and employment it creates. Look at the poor countries - many of them have lots of people, which means lots of labor. What they don't have is capital resources or the necessary structures to preserve capital resource investment, which results in poverty. capital Resources is a necessary ingredient to have a productive private economy to build societal wealth. "

Post fixed, and all.
7.18.2007 9:49am
Justin (mail):
What's interesting is that American misses that his "problem" with Marxist theory is clearly applicable to liberterian theory: property is a function of the state, and can only operate through the state. But if property does not benefit a majority of people, a majority of people will opt out of the social contract, perhaps violently. Liberterian theory presumes that one can empiracally calculate a "tax-eater" by the amount of resources he directly consumes, but that ignores the vast amount of "secondary benefits" to such resources - reduced violence and crime, increased worker productivity, a sense of local and state pride, etc.

Without those things, property - a fictional if necessary idea created by the state - becomes difficult to maintain.
7.18.2007 9:54am
Paul from Florida (mail):
In engineering and science all tools operate within a margin of error and precision. No doubt the libertarian taxeaters/taxproduces tool has its problems. But, I am convinced it is the most useful and illuminating tool so far. I would welcome even a better tool. The past 150 years have seen the variations on state power, exercised energetically and murdering hundreds of millions of people directly and shortening and making miserable many more.
7.18.2007 3:06pm
Zathras (mail):
Rather than a libertarian theory of class conflict, this is more a class conflict theory of libertarianism. Many people who become libertarians do so because of these perceived privileges, and libertarian theory is the psychologically acceptable answer to this perceived injustice.
7.18.2007 3:17pm
liberty (mail) (www):

Marxists have never succeded in explaining what incentive individual capitalists or workers have to advance public policies that benefit their "class" as a whole.


But, do they have to? Wouldn't it be enough (and lead to the same result) for the political class to be made up of individuals lobbying for laws, regulation and subsidies that directly benefit themselves and for the producer class to be lobbying against same when it directly draws from their pocket?

The combined action of individual pursuits creates a division in society, the classes are an emergent property.
7.18.2007 3:26pm
liberty (mail) (www):
oops, I sort of quoted the wrong bit. I was responding to the libertarian class conflict and collective action / free riding.
7.18.2007 3:35pm
Ilya Somin:
But, do they have to? Wouldn't it be enough (and lead to the same result) for the political class to be made up of individuals lobbying for laws, regulation and subsidies that directly benefit themselves and for the producer class to be lobbying against same when it directly draws from their pocket?

They may lobby for policies that directly benefit themselves (e.g. - a subsidy for my particular business). But that is very different from lobbying for policies that benefit taxeaters as a class. In the latter case, most of the benefits would go to other taxeaters, not to the lobbyist himself.

Ditto for the producing class.
7.18.2007 4:02pm
liberty (mail) (www):
sure, but is lobbying for policies that benefit taxeaters as a class necessary? That is my question.
7.18.2007 4:57pm
markm (mail):

Politics and politicians solve the collective action problem by doing the heavy lifting. Having gotten enough votes by arguing "I will increase your government benefits" or "I will reduce your taxes," they seek the betterment of the class that elected them.

But once a politician is in office, he is very definitely a taxeater, no matter who elected him. Nearly all successful politicians are smarter than they look, certainly smart enough to figure this out. If he was elected by taxeaters, no problem, his interests align with those who voted for him more often than not.

However, if he was elected by tax-payers (or a group generally aligned with taxpayers, e.g. Republicans), his interests are often at odds with those who voted for him. There are three ways to handle that conflict:

1) Follow his constituents' interest, rather than his own.

2) Follow his interests whenever it's possible to muddle the issues, for instance with 4,000 page bills with misleading names, and thereby conceal his betrayal from taxpayer voters who remain rationally ignorant rather than digging deep into his voting record and what the legislation he voted for and against did in reality.

3) Use his prominence as an office-holder to attract votes from interest groups that align better with his own interests as a tax-eater.

#2 and 3 can easily be combined and pursued at the same time. As someone, I forget who, recently said, "House an elephant in the Washington Zoo for too long and it turns into a RINO."

It seems to me that, except in big cities, as you move from local to state to federal levels, both the Republican and Democratic parties get more liberal. If this actually holds up after considering how extremely liberal a few big citys are and their huge populations, the explanation is right there in #2: the further politicians are removed from their constituents and the more complex the government agencies and issues they affect, the easier it is to fool their constituents.
7.18.2007 5:12pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Actually you misunderstand libertarian theory but I will leave the heavy lifting of straightening you out to some other sucker.
7.18.2007 10:01pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Justin-

I'll start with your first post:

" But on the macro level capital resources is needed to fund the private economy, which is the only thing that produces and which sustains everything, including the state. Everyone benefits from capital resources and the production and employment it creates. Look at the poor countries - many of them have lots of people, which means lots of labor. What they don't have is capital resources or the necessary structures to preserve capital resource investment, which results in poverty. capital Resources is a necessary ingredient to have a productive private economy to build societal wealth. "

No, a lot of these poor countries have resources as well, or at least resources similar to wealthier countries. Look at the Koreas - they are pretty similarly situated as far as resources go. But the capital and the structure to protect capital investment and property rights are not there in the North, so that one is poor and some people are starving.
7.18.2007 11:19pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Justin-

property is a function of the state, and can only operate through the state.

If one believes in natural rights it isn't. As Bastiat said:

"Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place."

But if property does not benefit a majority of people, a majority of people will opt out of the social contract, perhaps violently.

Under laissez faire free market economics it does benefit the majority of people. But this always struck me - if you get rid of or erode property rights - then what? If you then go on to acheive some success why bother? Someone poorer will just claim they should be able to steal from you, or the state will. And so on and so on until everyone but the political elite is poor and starving, which is what history has shown us happens under communist regimes.

Liberterian theory presumes that one can empiracally calculate a "tax-eater" by the amount of resources he directly consumes, but that ignores the vast amount of "secondary benefits" to such resources - reduced violence and crime, increased worker productivity, a sense of local and state pride, etc.

I think you're misunderstanding the terms. "Tax-eaters" in the theory mentioned above means the state and the industries that the state subsidizes, as opposed to those who work in the private economy, those who produce. The "tax-eaters" are dependent on the producers because the state is dependent on the private economy.

You can get increased worker productivity in the private sector, in fact, that's where you mainly get it. You can get local and state pride from the private sector as well. As far as reducing crime goes, that may be available from the private sector as well, although that may be debateable.

Without those things, property - a fictional if necessary idea created by the state - becomes difficult to maintain.

Property isn't fictional, even in socialist schemes it exists, it is just claimed by the state, or more accurately, by the political elite. And actually the things you mentioned become easier to maintain if the private economy is strong. When you hamper the private economy, you reduce overall employment, wealth, and living standards.
7.18.2007 11:44pm
SIG357:
Property clearly existed in its physical state before any laws. The world existed before men arrived at all. America existed before the Europeans came. But "property" in the legal sense only exists within a framework of laws. The Manhattan Indians had no concept of land as property as we understand the term.


Outside a narrow band at top and bottom I think it is difficult to assign most people status as tax-eaters or tax-payers. Most of us will be in each catagory at some point in our lives. Whether we end up as a net tax-eater or tax-payer will come down to the last years of life.

"Cross-cutting cleavages" aside, there are classes in this country, and people in them make decisions on a class basis, which is often but not always an economic basis. The recent immigration fracas was an example, pitting a wealthy business class which stands to profit from immigration against the rest of the the country which does not. Note that this business class crosses many of the accustomed boundaries, including political ones.


The combined action of individual pursuits creates a division in society, the classes are an emergent property.

To begin with, sure. But once classes come into being they have a strong tendency both to shape the individual action of their members, and to endure over long periods of time.
7.19.2007 2:14am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
SIG357-

Property clearly existed in its physical state before any laws. The world existed before men arrived at all. America existed before the Europeans came. But "property" in the legal sense only exists within a framework of laws. The Manhattan Indians had no concept of land as property as we understand the term.

Yes and no. People make a lot of the alleged outlook that the indians had on property - claiming it was a communal, collectivist, socialist, etc. one. That is very far from the truth. There were often disputes and wars between tribes over hunting grounds. And many lived on lands that they had driven and killed or enslaved other tribes to acquire. And that's just land - they certainly claimed ownership of other property as well. One of the skills that could earn you wealth and respect was how skillful, daring, and successful you were at stealing horses from other tribes. And that's not even getting into women, who were in some cases treated as property or slaves.

Outside a narrow band at top and bottom I think it is difficult to assign most people status as tax-eaters or tax-payers. Most of us will be in each catagory at some point in our lives. Whether we end up as a net tax-eater or tax-payer will come down to the last years of life.

The "tax-eaters" are the political class - the state and state-subsidized industries - that are dependent on the private economy. This is an irrefutable relationship - if there was no private economy there could be no viable state.

"Cross-cutting cleavages" aside, there are classes in this country, and people in them make decisions on a class basis, which is often but not always an economic basis. The recent immigration fracas was an example, pitting a wealthy business class which stands to profit from immigration against the rest of the the country which does not. Note that this business class crosses many of the accustomed boundaries, including political ones.

But what's problematic is that often these "classes" are being artificially constructed and misled. Everyone but those receiving large direct handouts are harmed by hampering the private economy, since hampering the private economy hurts employment, overall wealth, and living standards. So very large portions of these "classes" are actually being harmed by alleged class activity.
7.19.2007 4:19am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Zathras-

Rather than a libertarian theory of class conflict, this is more a class conflict theory of libertarianism. Many people who become libertarians do so because of these perceived privileges, and libertarian theory is the psychologically acceptable answer to this perceived injustice.

What do you mean here? When I became convinced that libertarian arguments were sound in many cases what privileges did I accrue? Libertarians are disliked by large portions of the Left and Right, I don't see what magical benefits result from becoming a libertarian.
7.19.2007 4:27am
Zathras (mail):
American Psikhushka, I am not talking about any magical benefits. I am just saying that the story told is a good explanation of why many people become libertarians.
7.19.2007 9:30am
nobody (mail):
One part of this argument hangs on a collective action theory. I'm not persuaded that this argument has been proven. I mean think about churches or unions. People are not just homo economicus.
7.19.2007 10:45am
nobody (mail):
"Why shouldn't the individual greedy capitalist simply sit back and free ride upon the lobbying efforts of other capitalists? If they act to promote their common interest, procapitalist policies will be implemented even if an isolated individual doesn't contribute. If they don't, his individual efforts probably won't be enough to force the policy through by himself."

I think its worth noting that collective action arguments cut in favor of (more) government. Collective action suggests that public goods will be under-supplied. Because free riders won't pay for what they use if they can get away with it. Therefore, Government is necessary to supply public goods. Randy Barnett, a contributor here, noted all of this in his book, The Structure of Liberty, but he did not directly challenge the theory.

More fundamentally, I don't see how a rational person cannot have the forsight to recognize free-rider problems. Take a simple example, if everyone waits for someone else to clean the common area in an apartment buiding, it may rarely get cleaned. I think every rational person understands this. So, rational people would try to work out some fair arrangement between tenants to keep it clean. This would be particularly the case as the common area gets dirtier.
7.19.2007 12:33pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
nobody-

More fundamentally, I don't see how a rational person cannot have the forsight to recognize free-rider problems. Take a simple example, if everyone waits for someone else to clean the common area in an apartment buiding, it may rarely get cleaned. I think every rational person understands this. So, rational people would try to work out some fair arrangement between tenants to keep it clean. This would be particularly the case as the common area gets dirtier.

This assumes a cordial relationship. If the other parties are say illegally and tortiously stealing from and assaulting party that party might - quite justifiably - refuse to participate in community projects. After all if a community is criminal and tortious it has already broken the social contract. A more simple example might be this: A mugger in the neighborhood has repeatedly been involved in robbing and assaulting you, are you going to take him seriously when he babbles about your sidewalk being messy?
7.20.2007 4:11am
nobody (mail):
For what it's worth, I think you should try to understand a theory on its own terms.

In Marxist terms, collective action problems put the cart before the horse. Capitalism, Marx argued, by its nature created a conflict of interest between workers and capitalists. This conflict of interest exists wholly apart from the intentions of the respective classes. It is this conflict of interest inherent in capitalism that drives workers and capitalists into classes. Class consciousness results from the conflict of interest, not the other way around. In other words, by pursuing self interests, they are pursuing their class interests--this in turn, gives rise to class consciousness.
7.20.2007 6:07pm
nobody (mail):
American Psikhushka,

Yes, it does assume a cordial relationship. In such cases, why wouldn't rational persons reach some agreement? To answer my own question: there are transaction costs. this is probably how the law &econ'ers would distinguish my homely example from large-scale political action. The transaction costs in large-scale political action would outweigh the benefits to any particular individual.

But this still does not answer the basic thesis of the Marxian class conflict.
7.20.2007 6:19pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
nobody-

In Marxist terms, collective action problems put the cart before the horse. Capitalism, Marx argued, by its nature created a conflict of interest between workers and capitalists. This conflict of interest exists wholly apart from the intentions of the respective classes. It is this conflict of interest inherent in capitalism that drives workers and capitalists into classes. Class consciousness results from the conflict of interest, not the other way around. In other words, by pursuing self interests, they are pursuing their class interests--this in turn, gives rise to class consciousness.

The thread is probably dead but I'll respond anyway.

The problem with Marx's conflict theory is that in many, if not most cases, it is wrong. As the North Korea / South Korea differences show us, there is not automatic conflict between workers and owners because capital and the structures to safeguard capital investment are tremendously beneficial to everyone. With it you get more employment, higher overall societal wealth, and higher living standards - so this benefits basically everyone, of all classes. Without it, you get poverty and even starvation, except for the political elite.

That's what so dangerous about Marxism - he is wrong for the most part about class conflict, but his arguments have a visceral, emotional appeal. Kind of like blaming the kooky old lady for the village's problems and burning her as a witch.
7.21.2007 3:46am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
nobody-

Yes, it does assume a cordial relationship. In such cases, why wouldn't rational persons reach some agreement? To answer my own question: there are transaction costs. this is probably how the law &econ'ers would distinguish my homely example from large-scale political action. The transaction costs in large-scale political action would outweigh the benefits to any particular individual.

Yeah, returning stolen property, paying restitution, and stopping exploitation certainly is a "transaction cost" if that is your business. Although it is the right thing to do if you claim to care about morals, right and wrong, the "social contract", being an honest person, etc.

But this still does not answer the basic thesis of the Marxian class conflict.

See my response above. The Marxist thesis of class conflict fails because it is largely false - an emotionally manipulative construct.
7.21.2007 3:54am