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Utilitarianism

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    I was just reading through 'Marx, Durkheim, Weber: formation of modern social thought' by Ken Morrison.

    Ken Morrison implies that John Stewart Mill and Jeremy Bentham were utilitarian social theorists, and that Durkheim attacked this position on that basis it was too focused on the individual.

    I was under the impression that utilitarianism is a type of consequentialist ethical system, which judge whether actions are right or wrong based on the utility or happiness they cause or create (or do not).

    So it seem to me that whilst utilitarianism reduces society to an aggregate of individuals, claims to be able to sum the 'happiness' of individuals together to be able to give a social happiness, it is not an 'individualist doctrine' in itself because social happiness always trumps the lone ego happiness of one individual.

    So I am a little confused.

    Or is the point the Durkheim rejects the idea that society is an aggregate of individuals and is a kind of 'entity' in itself? So it is the premiss which is the problem per se rather than the emphasis on social 'happiness'?

    I am also a little confused about utilitarianism and liberalism. Clearly the idea of social happiness can be used to take away all sorts of freedoms from the individual, indeed I believe Mill himself was for a kind of wealth redistribution. So when does utilitarianism (which is supposed to become a liberal doctrine) become a socialist one? My point is that utilitarianism seems to have an inbuilt logic/momentum towards collectivism.
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    (Original post by ellathecat)
    Sorry I can' t be of help - I don't know anything about Durkheim's thinking - but I would like to comment on your last paragraph.
    I've never thought utilitarianism would lead to socialism since utilitarianism is all about happiness; personally I can't see socialism bringing 'a sum of more happiness' than a liberal society (one that still has some 'wealth distribution' so that the people who are worse off still have an adequate living standard).
    So, in my opinion, although utilitarianism indeed requires some 'control' / freedoms to be taken away from the individual, and in this respect has similarities to socialism, it would never lead to socialism since in the end socialism does not work and people in a socialist state would be miserable, the opposite of what utilitarianism is trying to achieve.
    I do think though that utilitarianism is a bit vague so to say, people have different ideas on what sort of society would create the maximum happiness.
    I think that is a fair point. I believe that is a central criticism of utilitarianism is "how is happiness or utility measured" at any level, and one can only ever judge the outcome of an act in hindsight unless a foresight machine is invented?

    I suppose what I meant by Socialism was 'socialist policy', since to me any form of wealth redistribution to promote more equality is a socialist policy, even though 'Socialism' is common ownership of the means of production, although to me that is Communism. It's confusing.

    Also I am not sure how it is judged that 'some' Socialism is what makes people most happy, since I do not know anyone that is made happy by having wealth taken from them and given to somebody else.
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    (Original post by snozzle)
    So when does utilitarianism (which is supposed to become a liberal doctrine) become a socialist one?
    When your opinions on economics change. If you are a utilitarian you might think the the free market is they to maximise utility. On the other hand you might think the market is really bad and you would make people happier if you planned the economy for the collective interest, aka socialism.

    I suspect many of the founders of liberal thought such as Bentham could well have been filthy socialists had they had not though people like Adam Smith and David Ricardo were right on economics.
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    (Original post by Classical Liberal)
    When your opinions on economics change. If you are a utilitarian you might think the the free market is they to maximise utility. On the other hand you might think the market is really bad and you would make people happier if you planned the economy for the collective interest, aka socialism.

    I suspect many of the founders of liberal thought such as Bentham could well have been filthy socialists had they had not though people like Adam Smith and David Ricardo were right on economics.
    Yep but isn't 'valuing' or even 'measuring' collective interest the first step to collectivism/socialism?

    For the free individual there is only their pursuit of their own rational self-interests (from the POV of libertarianism/utilitarianism)? They have no duty to society.

    The only way I can see for an individualist (utilitarian?) to bridge the gap to socialism is for it to be a kind of 'contract' between 'free individuals' who acknowledge that socialist economics will make them all happier and they all agree to give up their economic lives (which they were previously free to do with as they pleased) to 'society'.

    Problem is since socialism implies a fair degree of coercion and restraint upon the individual it makes a nonsense of the idea of a consensual 'contract'.

    I'm just trying to figure out in my mind how liberalism has come to favor socialist economics.
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    (Original post by snozzle)
    Yep but isn't 'valuing' or even 'measuring' collective interest the first step to collectivism/socialism?
    It is technically impossible. Look up Mises critique of socialism and the economic calculation problem.

    For the free individual there is only their pursuit of their own rational self-interests (from the POV of libertarianism/utilitarianism)? They have no duty to society.
    JS Mill thought we had a duty to others. For example if we could help somebody in need we are obliged to because by not helping them we are harming them. Other liberals, such as Milton Friedman disagree and think we have no obligation to others.

    The only way I can see for an individualist (utilitarian?) to bridge the gap to socialism is for it to be a kind of 'contract' between 'free individuals' who acknowledge that socialist economics will make them all happier and they all agree to give up their economic lives (which they were previously free to do with as they pleased) to 'society'.
    An individualist is not really a utilitarian. Individualists think we should build a society around the rights of the individual rather than the consequences of certain actions or for the collective interest.

    I'm just trying to figure out in my mind how liberalism has come to favor socialist economics.
    It hasn't.
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    (Original post by Classical Liberal)
    An individualist is not really a utilitarian. Individualists think we should build a society around the rights of the individual rather than the consequences of certain actions or for the collective interest.
    This is where I am confused as Ken Morrison seems to use the terms synonymously when discussing Durkheim.

    As far as I can tell the reason that Utilitarians are individualists is because they start with the free individual as their building block. The individual kind of precedes the formation of society and the individual is free to pursue their own rational self interest in their lives.

    So the Utilitarian is not interested in some 'social happiness or good' beyond the sum total of individual happiness (or an average), as the society is just a sum of individuals according to him/her, but Durkheim said we should consider society as preceding the individual and that their can be 'social phenomenon' (he calls them 'social facts, such as one he calls 'collective conscience') which are to be considered as more than a simple macro of individuals and are in fact 'things in themselves'. I'm still trying to figure out what he means really but he takes the stance of a Scientist, so he is not trying to dismantle utilitarianism the ethic per se but the individualism it implies i think?

    I'm inclined to agree with his general stance, I am thinking more and more the idea of a 'free individual' with nature rights is an absurdity....even though I like the politics of the idea.
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    (Original post by snozzle)
    So the Utilitarian is not interested in some 'social happiness or good' beyond the sum total of individual happiness (or an average), as the society is just a sum of individuals according to him/her, but Durkheim said we should consider society as preceding the individual and that their can be 'social phenomenon' (he calls them 'social facts, such as one he calls 'collective conscience') which are to be considered as more than a simple macro of individuals and are in fact 'things in themselves'. I'm still trying to figure out what he means really but he takes the stance of a Scientist, so he is not trying to dismantle utilitarianism the ethic per se but the individualism it implies i think?
    The utilatarian does indeed start from the individual, but does not hold that the individual has any rights, and argues that only individuals feel happiness and suffering. They argue that happiness and suffering are mans soveirgn master and that we should try to maximise total happiness. Naturally happiness can only come from individuals. But they think the that maximising the total sum of the happiness, or utility, is the only moral action.

    For example a utilatarian would say that it would be moral to rape somebody if say the victim suffered x but the rapper got y happiness. Where y > x. If x < y then you should not rape. That is the crux. It is pretty obvious how such a philosophy can lead you down the road to comititing henious acts and declaring them good.

    But as Mises would say it is impossible to judge whether x is greater than or smaller than y. Utility cannot be measured.d
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    (Original post by Classical Liberal)
    On the other hand you might think the market is really bad and you would make people happier if you planned the economy for the collective interest, aka socialism.
    Could I just say most socialists don't actually want some soviet style planned economy. Most socialists today tend to advocate stuff like worker owner co-op's and the democratization of policy making. This doesn't imply central planning; indeed a market for good and services could still exist.

    A utilitarianism would say that this would vastly reduce the wealth inequality we have at the moment, thus increasing the collective utility. I take a more negative-utilitarian viewpoint I.E. to minimize suffering rather than increase happiness.
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    (Original post by Drapetomanic)
    Could I just say most socialists don't actually want some soviet style planned economy. Most socialists today tend to advocate stuff like worker owner co-op's and the democratization of policy making. This doesn't imply central planning; indeed a market for good and services could still exist.
    Democratic socialism is still centrally planning the economy, it is just rather than a dictator determining what happens it is votes. Naturally this system would be very inefficient because each voter only knows a small amount about the needs and abilities of others. Therefore people would be disapointed with the system and either go down two lines. Gives up and allow capitalism to operate. Or to centralise power into the hands of strong men who have the ability to get things done.

    Infact there was a book written by the greatest intellectual ever on precisely this topic. Here is the gist.



    Although this argument is from the development of socialism after a war, which is what Hayek was writting about, the explanation for Nazism, the argument still holds. Socialism in all its forms is terribly inefficient and will lead to tyranny if attempted.

    Sorry Libertarian Socialists, **** aint gonna work


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    (Original post by Classical Liberal)
    Democratic socialism is still centrally planning
    Says who?

    I know that often in political terminology, 'democratic socialism' means reformist, moderate socialism, but who said anything about 'central planning'?
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    (Original post by Classical Liberal)
    Democratic socialism is still centrally planning the economy, it is just rather than a dictator determining what happens it is votes. Naturally this system would be very inefficient because each voter only knows a small amount about the needs and abilities of others. Therefore people would be disapointed with the system and either go down two lines. Gives up and allow capitalism to operate. Or to centralise power into the hands of strong men who have the ability to get things done.

    There're branches of socialism which contain vary little planning. Worker owned firms could operate for a profit, with a percentage of those profits going to the workers themselves. And like I said, you could still have a market for goods and services, with people choosing the goods produced by the firms, thus creating a system of supply and demand. The main difference is that people's labour isn't on the market, so you don't have a capitalist class owning the means of production and don't have the vast inequalities in wealth seen in all capitalist systems.

    Edit: in response to Hayek, his critique focuses on central planning (I think, I haven't read the whole book), which isn't what I'm advocating.
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    (Original post by Drapetomanic)
    There're branches of socialism which contain vary little planning. Worker owned firms could operate for a profit, with a percentage of those profits going to the workers themselves.
    Dam I could swear that is pretty similar to what happens today. Workers are free to start up their own companies.

    I mean take my company for example. The managing director is a worker. Sure he gets a lot of profit and gets to guides the course of the business. But on the other hand he has devoted himself to his company for decades. Building it into a multinational exporting firm with offices across the world from humble beginnings in a wee garage.

    By what right do I, a worker at the bottom of the company, have to come along and take the 'profits' (although I do get paid wages which could equated vaguely to a portion of the profits) and then vote on what happens to the business? Obviously that is stupid. Any not only that, it is only because of the efforts of the burguiouse do I have a descently paying job.

    And indeed suppose I did have the ability to vote, do I really know as much about the business as the managing director? Would my vote really be even vaguely on par to his?


    I am convinced that the vast majority of Libertarian socialists have never had a real job.
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    (Original post by Classical Liberal)
    Dam I could swear that is pretty similar to what happens today.
    I must have missed the part where firms were predominantly worker-owned.....
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    (Original post by anarchism101)
    I must have missed the part where firms were predominantly worker-owned.....
    I think you will find that the vast majority of firms we see today started out with the 'workers' owning them. I know my Dad's business operates like that.

    And that mechanism continues to this day.

    As most firms are small firms. And most small firms are basically partnerships or sole traders. And therefore the firm is worker owned. It is probably the case that most firms are worker owned.
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    (Original post by Classical Liberal)
    Dam I could swear that is pretty similar to what happens today. Workers are free to start up their own companies.

    I mean take my company for example. The managing director is a worker. Sure he gets a lot of profit and gets to guides the course of the business. But on the other hand he has devoted himself to his company for decades. Building it into a multinational exporting firm with offices across the world from humble beginnings in a wee garage.

    By what right do I, a worker at the bottom of the company, have to come along and take the 'profits' (although I do get paid wages which could equated vaguely to a portion of the profits) and then vote on what happens to the business? Obviously that is stupid. Any not only that, it is only because of the efforts of the burguiouse do I have a descently paying job.

    And indeed suppose I did have the ability to vote, do I really know as much about the business as the managing director? Would my vote really be even vaguely on par to his?
    In response to your second point, the fact that firms are worker owned doesn't necessarily mean the direction of the business is determined by each individual worker voting on each individual issue. I imagine people with specialized skills in business management representing the the employees as a whole and directing the business in a similar way to how current directors and managers work.

    However, there are two major differences; firstly, the interests of the managers and the other workers are aligned. Unlike in a capitalist system, in which it is in the interests of the capitalists to underpay and overwork the workers. In a worker owned co-op profit is tied to the productivity of the workers (including the managers). Also, managers have no control over the workforce so they can be removed democratically if need be. This means they have an interest in making the business productive, without the need or the ability to exploit the other workers.

    Secondly, under a more economically democratic system, managers and other workers receive a more equal share of the profit (the exact divide determined by the workers themselves), resulting in greater worker motivation and thus greater productivity. Such enterprises allow full employment, stable and logical growth, healthy competition, environmental stability and equality.

    You ask: "what right do I, a worker at the bottom of the company, have to come along and take the 'profits'". The workers are the ones who create the profit, their labour derives the value of a commodity. It's true that innovating individuals creating businesses are very valuable, but does this mean they (the 1%) deserve 10x the income of the majority? As some upholding utilitarian principles, I'd argue against that. The suffering inflicted on the majority would be vastly reduced if that money was more evenly distributed. Simply taxing rich individuals in a capitalist state doesn't work, which is why I'm advocating this economic revision/revolution.



    One other point that I haven't mentioned is that the capital market would have to go. Instead of taxing the private savings of wealthy individuals, a flat rate tax could be imposed on all enterprises. Kind of like a leasing fee, so workers rent societies collective capital. The funds are then allocated either to public banks, the banks could then invest into different enterprises and direct money to local democratically ran councils.
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    (Original post by Classical Liberal)
    The utilatarian does indeed start from the individual, but does not hold that the individual has any rights, and argues that only individuals feel happiness and suffering. They argue that happiness and suffering are mans soveirgn master and that we should try to maximise total happiness. Naturally happiness can only come from individuals. But they think the that maximising the total sum of the happiness, or utility, is the only moral action.
    I hear what you are saying but surely a pledge to maximise the happiness of the individual or the sum of individuals (society) implies people have a 'natural right' to seek happiness as to seek happiness is their nature? It's either a form of naturalism or is deontological surely? It makes more sense as the former, and that implies the utilitarian has some handle on what actually makes people happy too, so an assumption of human nature is build into the ethical system.

    So it might not formally commit to protecting 'natural rights' but the 'natural condition' of man is surely implicit in the ethical system?
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    (Original post by Drapetomanic)
    In response to your second point, the fact that firms are worker owned doesn't necessarily mean the direction of the business is determined by each individual worker voting on each individual issue. I imagine people with specialized skills in business management representing the the employees as a whole and directing the business in a similar way to how current directors and managers work.

    However, there are two major differences; firstly, the interests of the managers and the other workers are aligned. Unlike in a capitalist system, in which it is in the interests of the capitalists to underpay and overwork the workers. In a worker owned co-op profit is tied to the productivity of the workers (including the managers). Also, managers have no control over the workforce so they can be removed democratically if need be. This means they have an interest in making the business productive, without the need or the ability to exploit the other workers.

    Secondly, under a more economically democratic system, managers and other workers receive a more equal share of the profit (the exact divide determined by the workers themselves), resulting in greater worker motivation and thus greater productivity. Such enterprises allow full employment, stable and logical growth, healthy competition, environmental stability and equality.

    You ask: "what right do I, a worker at the bottom of the company, have to come along and take the 'profits'". The workers are the ones who create the profit, their labour derives the value of a commodity. It's true that innovating individuals creating businesses are very valuable, but does this mean they (the 1%) deserve 10x the income of the majority? As some upholding utilitarian principles, I'd argue against that. The suffering inflicted on the majority would be vastly reduced if that money was more evenly distributed. Simply taxing rich individuals in a capitalist state doesn't work, which is why I'm advocating this economic revision/revolution.

    One other point that I haven't mentioned is that the capital market would have to go. Instead of taxing the private savings of wealthy individuals, a flat rate tax could be imposed on all enterprises. Kind of like a leasing fee, so workers rent societies collective capital. The funds are then allocated either to public banks, the banks could then invest into different enterprises and direct money to local democratically ran councils.
    How is Capital allocated in such an economy though? It sound plausible in some steady state economy but what if wants and needs change?

    Somebody or something still has to allocate Capital. In a Capitalist system this is done where the Capital owners meet entrepreneurs on a stock market.

    Presumably your worker-owners would not be able to sell their Capital on an open market, their 'ownership' just then becomes a kind of idea.

    What you really end up with is a bureaucratic elite who step in to manage Capital allocation, and you have central planning. This elite then control everyone, and everyone becomes a kind of serf, despite the 'common ownership' which in reality is just a slogan, as the worker has no control over their Capital, and any surplus they produce gets sucked up by the bureaucracy, making them a de facto wage slave again like under Capitalism.

    Just a little OT but:

    In the real world what I have seen of 'empowered workers' are manifest as strong unions. They just become a kind of toxic special interest group in it for themselves in the most stark and ugly way.

    I'm not sure that is anymore virtuous than a bunch of Capitalists clubbing together and forming a cartel or becoming a political oligarchy.
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    (Original post by Drapetomanic)
    There're branches of socialism which contain vary little planning. Worker owned firms could operate for a profit, with a percentage of those profits going to the workers themselves. And like I said, you could still have a market for goods and services, with people choosing the goods produced by the firms, thus creating a system of supply and demand. The main difference is that people's labour isn't on the market, so you don't have a capitalist class owning the means of production and don't have the vast inequalities in wealth seen in all capitalist systems.

    Edit: in response to Hayek, his critique focuses on central planning (I think, I haven't read the whole book), which isn't what I'm advocating.
    I still do not see how labour and Capital are allocated around the economy under such a system where you still have a free market for goods and services, but not labour or Capital.

    Under such a system labour and Capital still has to be mobile.
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    (Original post by snozzle)
    I hear what you are saying but surely a pledge to maximise the happiness of the individual or the sum of individuals (society) implies people have a 'natural right' to seek happiness as to seek happiness is their nature? It's either a form of naturalism or is deontological surely? It makes more sense as the former, and that implies the utilitarian has some handle on what actually makes people happy too, so an assumption of human nature is build into the ethical system.

    So it might not formally commit to protecting 'natural rights' but the 'natural condition' of man is surely implicit in the ethical system?
    This is where the utilitarian schools start to differ, essentially based on differing opinions on economics.

    JS Mill for example thought that if give men freedom then they will maximise happiness. Other people think that free men will either hurt themselves or will hurt others and thus men need to be told what to do to stop them from hurting themselves. This theme is the basis of the film irobot where the machines decide we cannot be trusted with ourselves and thus we need to be governed in a totalitarian style.
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    (Original post by Drapetomanic)
    However, there are two major differences; firstly, the interests of the managers and the other workers are aligned. Unlike in a capitalist system, in which it is in the interests of the capitalists to underpay and overwork the workers. In a worker owned co-op profit is tied to the productivity of the workers (including the managers). Also, managers have no control over the workforce so they can be removed democratically if need be. This means they have an interest in making the business productive, without the need or the ability to exploit the other workers.
    There is no reason why we cannot use your model. The reason it is not used is simple. It is ****. It would be lovely if it was really productive and gave the consumer what he wanted. But the fact of the matter is that the system you propose simply does a bad job at serving the consumer.

    The only firms that run like you propose a small firms, which are great. This is because small firms only have a few people in them. All of the workers know each other skills well. They also tend to serve a smaller market who the workers know very well.

    However once a firm gains a larger work force and starts to to serve a larger market such a system is impossible to manage. This is because the workers no longer know each very well. The workers no longer know their market in detail because it is so vast. Once a firm gets to this kind of large scale production size the system you propose is terrible.

    The problem with people like you is that you think the workers are the end. This is wrong. The consumer is the end. The purpose of an economy is to serve the consumer. Not to liberate the worker to do whatever he likes. The purpose of the economy is to get people to suffer temporily (do work) for the benefit of others (the consumers). And that suffering is compensated with wages. Which allows the worker to be the consumer.

    I can tell you that in many firms the interests of the workers and the 'capitalists' are not aligned per se (the interests of the capitalist and the consumer are though). The capitalist tries to exploit the worker. And the worker tries to exploit the capitalist. This leads to stable equilibrium that both parties agree on, assuming they are free to choose.

    Secondly, under a more economically democratic system, managers and other workers receive a more equal share of the profit (the exact divide determined by the workers themselves), resulting in greater worker motivation and thus greater productivity. Such enterprises allow full employment, stable and logical growth, healthy competition, environmental stability and equality.
    Again, lovely idea. And I do not object to it. But it is not efficient. It would be an abberation if I got a big bonus at my firm having been there a months compared to people who have been there for years and are very important to the business.

    You ask: "what right do I, a worker at the bottom of the company, have to come along and take the 'profits'". The workers are the ones who create the profit, their labour derives the value of a commodity.
    Ahh yes the labour theory of value. Absolute economics jibberish.







    One other point that I haven't mentioned is that the capital market would have to go. Instead of taxing the private savings of wealthy individuals, a flat rate tax could be imposed on all enterprises. Kind of like a leasing fee, so workers rent societies collective capital. The funds are then allocated either to public banks, the banks could then invest into different enterprises and direct money to local democratically ran councils.
    You cannot tax enterprise. It is impossible. You can only tax people. Corportation tax is not a tax on business. It is really a tax on income. Because people own businesses. And if you tax businesses. You are taxing people.

    Your idea of democratic investment is socialism. Still stuck with all the inherent flaws of socialism. The decentralisation of knowledge. And the risk of corruption.

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