On the Narrow Bounds of Class Condition

In a discussion with Alan Avans last week, I introduced an imaginary place
where the only commodity is bread and workers sell 100% of their labour
power to the owner of the means of bread production, the Bread Baron, in
exchange for exactly as much bread as they require to stay alive.

Now Breadland is not meant to be realistic, it is meant as a simplifying
abstraction to help explain the “Narrow Bounds of Class Condition,” or why
“doctrinaire experiments” like “co-operative banking” and “labour exchange”
are “doomed to fail,” as Marx noted in his “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis
Napolean.”

Imagine that some of workers of Breadland decide they want to have their
own bakery, and thereby be able to produce independently of the Bread
Baron. Let’s say the Bakery would take two months to complete before it
could produce any bread. What would the workers working on building the
bakery eat during these two months? Where would they get any bread, given
that all the bread that has ever been produced but not yet consumed is owned by the  Bread Baron? 

Clearly, nothing the workers could do on their own by way of inventing
co-operative financing or trading systems would work, as they have no
retained bread earnings to base such a system on.

The real world is much closer to Breadland than it is to Syndicalist
Utopia. Brian Holmes posted “Got Plutocracy?” last week where he noted that
the top 5% of US earners own two thirds of the countries wealth. So while
real world workers, on average, may not be as skint as the Breadlandians,
it isn’t far off. Any alternative financing platform rooted in the idea of forming capital from the retained earnings of workers is up against a major issue of scale.

It would take the retained earnings of thousands to form capital for a few
who would nonetheless need to compete against the Tycoon funded startups.
Inverse to the workers, each Tycoon can form capital and employ many, many
workers. The worker-funded ventures would not only need to match their
level of creating new ventures, and delivering value, but also match their
capacity for absorbing failed ventures. No small feat.

This scale such a workers movement would need to eventually achieve to
actually challenge the distribution of wealth in society is way beyond what
any voluntarist “Crowd Funding” platform can deliver.

As I suggested in my “Insurgent Finance” post a few months back, perhaps
the best way to achieve this scale is by way issuing bonds to worker’s
pension funds.

3 comments

  1. Patrick Anderson

    This is a good summary of why the bread eaters (consumers) should bear the costs of ownership instead of the bread makers (workers).

    Imagine a crowd of bread eaters fund the purchase of a bakery simply because they want bread.

    This is not voluntarist “Crowd Funding”, but is strategic “Crowd Owning” – where these microinvestors are risking money for the purpose of receiving that product at the real costs of production while also having full dominion over the direction of that production.

    These consumers may hire workers to make the bread, but might also do some of the work themselves.

    This also means automation is not a problem for the group, and so robotic bread makers are gladly accepted as a real solution.

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