Though my degree is Economics, I have never worked much in that field. However, I do enjoy economic theory and try to read a few books a year in the subject.
The first Economics read I’ve chosen in my three-year Self Doctorate course is Pyotr Kropotkin’s Conquest Of Bread, written first as a series of articles in the 1880s while Kropotkin was living in exile from Russia. You see, Kropotkin was actually born a Russian aristocrat (descended from the ancient Rurik Dynasty [conquering Vikings!] no less); but his political convictions led to his arrest. He managed to escape, and he fled to Europe, where he stayed until coming back decades later to Lenin’s post-revolution Russia, where he lived a few more years and died there at the age of 78.
Kropotkin considered himself an “Anarchist.” That term has evolved (or in my view, “de-volved”) over the last century-plus, and today Kropotkin is usually grouped under what is called “Anarcho-Communism.”
The basic view of Kropotkin was that a State Government, since it is an instrument of coercion, should be abolished altogether, replaced by voluntary associations of communities composed of free individuals. Even elected governments were not to his liking, as many of the underlying problems of rule by a centralized government remain even under democracies. Kropotkin spent his life living on meager wages from his writings and defending his Anarchist views and coming up with suggestions on how Anarchism could work economically and culturally. He was a great defender of the freedoms and economic rights of the common people.
One of the foundational points Kropotkin makes is that we are all the present beneficiaries of a shared inheritance of capital accumulated over numerous generations by the hard-work of mostly low-paid men and women: “whole generations, that lived and died in misery, oppressed and ill-treated by their masters, and worn out by toil, have handed on this immense inheritance to our century.” True that.
This line of thought leads inevitably to the notion that wealthy capitalists who claim immense sums as fair payment for the use of “their” capital can shove it down their coal holes.
Even the most self-made man owes his accumulated wealth as much to others, past and present, as he does to his own hard work and intelligence. I give the example (that I’ve heard used before) of a man who owns an airplane. That man did not create that plane entirely on his own by piecing together the atoms himself from a complex blueprint he drew in the sand with a stick. Each modern plane is not just one invention, but a flying warehouse full of inventions: radar, radio, pressurized cabin, onboard computers, adjustable wings, landing gear, emergency oxygen masks—even the sickbags and onboard toilets! And all of these devices are the sum of many other smaller parts and inventions–each of these parts and inventions requiring the toil of legions of workers to bring to reality.
For another example, a myriad of inventions dating back centuries had to precede Zuckerberg’s creation of Facebook. For every computer built or network cable stretched that enables his empire, there came before him thousands of working men and women who had to mine the raw materials for the computers and internet, work in the factories to put these raw materials together to form intricate devices and circuitries, lay down the roads and railroads or build the ships or planes or trucks for the transport of these materials and devices without which his idea would be meaningless fancy. Not to mention the millions—nay, billions—who have sweated and ruined backs and sacrificed whole life-times worth of labor to build-up the decadence of life-style and wealth needed to afford —and the leisure time to waste at– his pseudo-socializing and “friend”-devaluing game.
Says Kropotkin: “Each discovery, each advance, each increase in the sum of human riches, owes its being to the physical and mental travail of the past and present.”
And: “Every acre has its story of enforced labor, of intolerable toil, of the people’s sufferings. Every mile of railway, every yard of tunnel, has received its share of human blood.”
More of my thoughts on this great thinker to come as I continue plowing through The Conquest Of Bread. My blood has just begun to boil.
[see also my post, V for Vendetta… A for Anarchism ]