A better hope for the new millenium

(This policy bulletin is an extract from the book "A better hope for the new millenium" by The Late MC O’Dowd, published in 2001 by the Free Market Foundation)

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…capital is the most abused and misunderstood of the factors necessary to produce material wealth. Capital can do nothing by itself, but without capital, labour can do almost nothing. It is confined to what workers can do with there are hands. … capital is not an existing stock of things which just happens to belong to some people rather than others; it is a dynamic flow, since it has to be constantly maintained and renewed. Nothing is easier than to consume capital, and nothing is more disastrous. … in accordance with old-fashioned wisdom and contrary to some more recent doctrines, capital is indeed produced as a result of saving and can be produced in no other way, … saving is … a highly necessary and therefore praiseworthy activity. …the rights of the providers of capital are every bit as legitimate and important as those of workers, and … there is a real and serious danger of the exploitation of capital by labour which, if not prevented, will lead to the consumption of capital and the impoverishment of everybody including the workers.

The hope for the future is that the legitimacy of the rights of capital will be fully accepted, and these rights will be fully protected. There are already many countries in the world where this is the case, and these are the countries with high rates of economic growth.

… it is a hopeless fallacy to believe that people can be grouped into classes where the economic interest of all the members of the class are identical. No two individuals anywhere have identical interests. Conflict of interest occurs wherever human being interact; and wherever people band together of “gang up” on the basis of common interests they are forming a coalition, agreeing for the time being to overlook hundreds of other points where their interests are not the same. Such coalitions can always break up and form again along other lines. Any class is a coalition of smaller classes until we come down to individuals. Even households and families are split by conflict of interests, sometimes very bitter ones.

…the mystical claim made by Marxists for “class”, that the interests of the individual can be ignored as long as the interests of the class are furthered, is dishonest. Marx correctly pointed out that where the same claim has been made on behalf of nations, the purpose of this claim was to conceal the conflict of interests between different classes in the nation, and to further the interests of certain classes at the expense of others. Exactly the same is true of Marx’s classes. They have been defined so as to further the interests of certain particular groups which are much smaller than the “class”, and specifically to cover up and deny one of the most fundamental clashes of interests which existing in modern society, that between the employed and the unemployed.

The hope for the future is that, while people will inevitably “gang up” to protect their interests on particular issues, … it is quite unhelpful to think of society fundamentally in terms of classes, and entirely futile to hope that conflict of interests between groups or individuals can be eliminated. We have to learn to live with such conflicts and to manage them so that they cause as little damage as possible. We must not focus on conflicts of interests to the exclusion of the very real and large areas of common interest, and above all we must endeavour to structure our society and our culture for co-operation including competition and not for fighting.

…Society is not an organisation which can have intentions or policies, own or manage things, or have rights. It is a state of affairs, an ecosystem, resulting from millions of individuals sometimes acting as individuals but more usually acting through all sorts of organisations from political parties to religious groups, companies and labour unions. These pursue their own purposes, sometimes in co-operation with others, sometimes in conflict, and often simply in disregard of others. …

When people talk about “society” as something that can actually do things, they really mean the government. They have preferred not to say so because people are only too aware of the weakness and inadequacies of even the best governments and the dire dangers of increasing their power. …

The hope for the future is that we will finally abandon all grandiose dreams of social engineering, accept the limits on what government can actually achieve and can usefully attempt, and realise that progress comes essentially from the activities of free individuals – not necessarily acting as individuals but acting in groupings and combinations which they have voluntarily formed for themselves. …

For a very long time we have had the idea, in private life, of what a mature adult is like, but in public life we have behaved like spoilt children crying for the moon, “wanting it now”, blaming other people for our own shortcomings and indulging in massive self-destructive tantrums. Perhaps we will stop doing these things.

Source: This policy bulletin may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.


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