Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A pensioner's capitalism

Peter Drucker argued in Post-Capitalist Society (1993) that Western economies are no longer capitalist because ownership of the means of production is largely in pension funds, and the pension funds are owned by the workers, not the capitalists.

However, capitalism does not necessarily involve two mutually exclusive social classes, where each individual can be unambiguously assigned to one social class or another. For example, some theorists in the 'agorist' tradition like Samuel Konkin argue that each person is a worker-capitalist-entreprenuer. But in Konkin's conception, there are in fact three mutually exclusive social classes - statist capitalists, non-statist capitalists, and entrepreneurs. Workers simply do not exist in this theoretical framework are considered a "relic from a previous Age". As for the 'non-statist capitalists' Konkin considers them as "relatively neutral drone-like non-innovators." This is partly how Konkin distinguishes the "new libertarian left" from the "Marxoid" theories.

However, whether capitalism can unambiguously assign individuals to one of two (or three, or four, or possibly zero) social classes or not, it is evident that capitalism is an economic structure with two important sources of income: one from the ownership of the means of production, and the other from employment for a wage salary. These two categories can be conflated, and this leads theorists like Drucker to say that capitalism is now in the hands of "the people", a kind of utopian Thatcherite vision that has long existed in the US and UK.

But it has always been possible in principle for individuals to receive income from both of these sources. I can grow my own vegetables and sell them, whilst taking a wage salary from a grocery store to supplement my income. I am suddenly a capitalist, a worker, and an entrepreneur all at once. This does not mean I live in a post-capitalist society, and does not imply that the contradictions of capitalism have been supplanted. Still, if I receive a substantial income from both selling vegetables and working at the grocery store, then this may put difficulties in the way of attaching the single label "capitalist" or "worker" or "entrepreneur" to me, although these difficulties are only misunderstandings.

But even still, if I am a pensioner this does not even qualify me as a capitalist. Typically, pension funds are not even under the direct control of their owners, nor subject to their free disposal. The argument that pension funds have "democratized" the stock market is completely false, by disallowing worker control or decision making. Besides that, most people derive the majority of their income from wages and not from stock options or pensions, and the rich minorities still derive substantial income and power from property outside of pension funds altogether. A pension is just like any other investment in the stock market, only most of them are held in the tight hands of fund managers.

Saving income has always been a necessary tool for surviving under capitalist conditions. There is nothing particularly revolutionary about this, only that it allows skilled workers to be further divided from unskilled workers, and younger workers from older ones. But if the stock market crashes, pensioners find their futures at risk, just like the capitalists who own the production, thus intertwining their interests and upending the potential for radical change.

1 comment:

Muser said...

Nice post. Thanks.