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Mark A. Edwards

Superb as always, Patrick. I never fail to learn, or to be provoked into learning more.

Steven Shiffrin

Terrific post, Patrick. Thanks so much. A very attractive socialism. From my own scholarly agenda, I am thinking about the relationship of free speech theory to this view of socialism. I think it is possible to have an attractive free speech perspective consistent with this version of socialism, but it happily would not look like the version the Supreme Court has now.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Thank you Mark for the generous assessment. I trust you realize this only prompts me to persevere...and at a moment when I was having my doubts about the value of this blogging stuff.

Patrick S. O'Donnell


Thanks. I know the post was inordinately long but I actually left out much else I wanted to say but will have to leave for another day.

One item I left out but do want to mention here is Jon Elster's elaboration of the Marxist conception of the good life, which is not far from what I, after Luntley, was attempting to get at in the post. Elster first describes how arguments for capitalism assert or assume, among other things, (1) that the "best life for the individual is one of consumption, understood in a broad sense that includes aesthetic pleasures and entertainment as well as consumption of goods in the ordinary sense," (2) that "consumption is to be valued because it promotes happiness [poorly defined or ill-understood] or welfare [as that is conventionally understood in neo-classical economics]," (3) that principles of distributive justice decide who gets what in light of the fact that "there are not enough opportunities for consumption to provide satiation for everyone," (4) that the theory of justice must concern itself in the first instance with the different incentive or motivational and information effects of proposed distributive principles, and (5) that neo-classical economics properly provides us with the "informational and motivational consequences of private owership of the means of production," and that these convincingly demonstrate in theory and practice capitalism's superiority to alternative distributive principles that justify other theories of property or "various forms of collective ownerships."

Elster's argument focuses on the first and second propositions.

Neo-classical economic theory, in conjunction with Liberalism, typically neglects the endogeneity of preference formation such that, for example, the putatively "free choice of life-style" "is to a large extent preempted by the the social environment in which people grow up and live." As Elster writes, "Although this resistible presumption is vastly superior to a dictatorially imposed conception of the good life, it casts a long shadow on the presumed sovereignty of individual preferences."

Elster proceeds to argue for the superiority of a Marxist conception of self-realization over consumption, at the same time explaining why individuals in a capitalist society resist the former's rational superiority over the latter, thereby accounting for lack of preference or desire for self-realization: "The macroeconomic institutions of a society will have a profound influence on both the desire and the opportunity of self-realisation." Elster argues that the "resistance to self-realisation is due largely to myopia and free riding," and that these two obstacles similarly arise by way of blocking "the path towards socialism."

Elster defines self-realization in the Marxist tradition as "the full and free actualization and externalization of the powers and the abilities of the individual," explaining why that, while it is the case that "an individual cannot develop ALL his abilities, he ought to be free to develop ANY of them."

See his essay, "Self-realisation in work and politics: the Marxist conception of the good life," in Jon Elster and Karl Ove Moene, eds., Alternatives to Capitalism (1989): 127-158.

Mark A. Edwards

Unfortunately, Patrick, I share your doubts with regard to my own blogging, but not with reagrd to yours.

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