Welcome to the first blog post of Caitlin, Ebram, Vanessa and Ethan!
We mainly used this because this guy’s shirt is awesome
Today we will be examining a pertinent theme in Marx and Smith – that of the individual and the collective.
You may not think that your iPhone has much to do with Smith, Marx or the interdependence of the individual and the collective, but the iPhone is a remarkable microcosm of the notion of private property and its consequences for human beings, a conception that both Smith and Marx in. In this post we’ll look at private property, why Marx and Smith have such different opinions on it, and how it affects our society today, hundreds of years after Smith and Marx wrote. Also, I bet Marx would’ve been a sweet Candy Crush player.
Smith’s and Marx’s differing conceptions of human nature affect the relationship they construct between the individual and the collective. In Smith’s framework, people live in commercial society, where people produce more than they individually require; so they exchange their surplus with other people`s surplus. He states;
“Every man thus lives by exchanging, or becomes in some measure a merchant, and the society itself grows to be what is properly a commercial society” (Smith 24).
Thus Smith’s free market is an expression of the natural progression of innate human tendency to exchange, from the individual trucking and bartering to a collective system of monetary currency based exchange.
Under Smith’s view of political economy, an innate, individualistic self-interest leads to a society built around collaborative production, collective exchange of surplus, and private property (ownership of necessities, conveniences, and means of production). Thus capitalism is simply a natural consequence of our human nature. The individual incentives that drive labor are collectivized under the process of division of labor and produces the idea of private property.
“But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only.” (15).
Smith sees society as dominated by individuals acting out of their self interest (as he states on page 13.) In Smith’s conception of the world, the society is solidified not because of a collective notion in humans but because humans work to benefit themselves.
So Smith sees private property as an extension of this individualistic behaviour, and therefore not something inherently good or bad. It is just a consequence of human nature for him.
Smith would approve, Finn.
For Marx, however, individuals are species beings; inherently socially connected to themselves, nature, and their fellow human. Therefore his views of private property are shaped by the social nature of humans.
When I am active scientifically – when I am engaged I activity that I can seldom perform in direct community with others – then I am social, because I am active as a man” (86)
Here, Marx expresses that even when humans do not directly interact with other humans in the here-and-now, their contributions to the progression of the collective (for example, their contributions to future scientific research and the research they used as foundation for their research) are a definite social act. Marx’s assertion that being active as a human means being social reinforces his idea that humans are focused towards the collective.
The species being – human collective teamwork!
Under Marx’s view, the current capitalist system is the result of species beings’ interaction with these three categories under very specific historical and material conditions. Our individual labor is not so individual after all, because it contributes to the total mass of labor-time used to produce commodities, and because it is work done upon the foundations of other species beings’ technological advances. The current system of private property leaves species-beings devoting all their time and energy to producing commodities to fulfill material needs and desires, but in the process of making these commodities to have as private property, we disrupt all the natural relationships. Thus capitalism, and private property, the result of these disrupted relationships, are detrimental to the full realization of species-beings’ potential on an individual (relationship between species-being and self) and collective level (relationship between one species-being and another, between species-being and nature).
Maintaining healthy species-being relationships are important, but not these kind of species…
Apple, an eminent corporation in the world economy, represents a culmination of Smith’s division of labor. It splits up production across countries and across populations, creating a process that standardizes the development and objectification of labor into a popular product that is sold worldwide. The revenue from those products contribute to Apple’s stock (in Smith’s sense of the word), which is then distributed in the form of wages for the workers involved in creating the product, in the form of rent for the factory space that was used to develop it, and in the form of profit to the owners of the Apple stock. Yet Apple also embodies everything Marx protests of private property and capitalism. The laborers at the base level, the ones who actually produce the iPhones and iPads and other Apple products are the ones who are exploited.Investigators found that workers earn $1.85 per hour and they work for 9 hours a day. In addition, they do over-time to earn more money. Roughly, they make $753 per month. They work in unsafe factory conditions and with wages low enough to ensure that they will never be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor (i.e they will never own an iPhone). Now, we can say that Marx was right when he said that in the capitalist society, people will produce objects that are going to be more powerful and aliens to them.
Here’s an interesting article on the subject of Apple factory workers and their pay:
Right? The conditions these workers face are terrible.
So it would seem that Marx’s predictions are true; workers under a capitalist system are alienated. They cannot afford what they produce, they live vastly different lives from the people they are producing for, and have few if any ways to advance up the hierarchy of society. However, there are several factors of difference between Smith’s world and the one we currently live in. Technological advances, globalisation and growing populations mean Smith may not endorse the incarnation of society we are currently in, since he may have had no capability to imagine us having an incredibly powerful computer in our pockets (which also supports Angry Birds) 250 years after he wrote Wealth of Nations.
Well, mad stacks for Tim Cook and co…
So be aware next time you head into the Apple store on State, because your purchase – your acquisition of private property – says a lot about not only you as an individual but also our collective society.