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JOE THE PLUMBER & ADAM SMITH

JOE THE PLUMBER & ADAM SMITH
by Wilson J. Moses

This election is a continuation of the culture wars, and it is likely that cultural symbols may trump economic interests.  On the cultural level, this plays out the Vietnam war all over again.   That is one reason that Ayers has emerged as an icon.  Previously the election of 2004 was about Vietnam, with John Kerry serving as an icon.  McCain, also an icon, sees the Presidency as his opportunity to vindicate not only the Iraq war, but Vietnam, as well.

On the economic level, Republicans, see the election as a way of further destroying the Keynesian economic policies that predominated from Roosevelt through Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.  People like Joe the Plumber foolishly believe that if they were not taxed, they could take their money and use it to invest on their own.  It is obvious to everyone but themselves that they lack the capacity to do so.   Indeed, most of us lack the capacity to do so, and it is this knowledge that distinguishes a working-class liberal from a working class conservative.   The Sarah Palins lack all humility, and really do believe that they are as smart as Warren Buffett.  They forget that a guy like McCain begins life with tremendous advantages, and proceeds thereafter, with access to information and institutions that they are unavailable to most of the working class.  Far too many workers foolishly believe that they can succeed outside institutional structures supported by government and taxation.

Adam Smith, who is so frequently mis-charactrized by Marxist historians, said in 1776:

“It sometimes happens, indeed, that a single independent workman has stock sufficient both to purchase the materials of his work, and to maintain himself till it be completed. He is both master and workman, and enjoys the whole produce of his own labour, or the whole value which it adds to the materials upon which it is bestowed. It includes what are usually two distinct revenues, belonging to two distinct persons, the profits of stock, and the wages of labour.
Such cases, however, are not very frequent; and in every part of Europe twenty workmen serve under a master for one that is independent, and the wages of labour are everywhere understood to be, what they usually are, when the labourer is one person, and the owner of the stock which employs him another.
What are the common wages of labour, depends everywhere upon the contract usually made between those two parties, whose interests are by no means the same. The workmen desire to get as much, the masters to give as little, as possible. The former are disposed to combine in order to raise, the latter in order to lower, the wages of labour.”

Joe the Plumber does not see the need to have a plumber’s license, or a union card, or to pay his taxes.   He earns $40,000 annually, and yet he identifies with people earning $250,000.   This ordinary wage earner does not, and cannot understand what Adam Smith is talking about.   His vision is too occluded by his his abstract fears, his unrealizable American Dream, and his subliminal recognition of his inferiority to hereditary aristocrats like John McCain, who are stronger and smarter than himself.  He is unaware of his interests and incapable of acting in accord with them.  Adam Smith is often misrepresented as standing in opposition to Karl Marx.   In fact Marx stood on the sturdy shoulders of Smith.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. October 19, 2008 at 4:31 am

    I don’t know if Marx stood on Smith’s shoulders. Smith never says that the wage differences between the owners of the means of production and the general labourer are such that they are unjust and the working class should revolt against the owners. In fact, I don’t see where Smith either endorses JTP’s dream or bashes it in what you’ve quoted. He only says that the chances of him realizing it are slim. He doesn’t make a value judgment on the issue, which is a key differences between Smith and Marx. Smith for the most part in both of his books, simply outlines the science and reality of what people do anyways. In “The Wealth of Nations” he describes the nature of economics, and in “A Theory of Moral Sentiment” he simply defines the different sentiments that are likely to guide our moral judgments, and therefore relieves them of their supposed superiority if they rely on reason rather than sentiment.

    Marx outlines a reality of what is going on,and explains why it is wrong, but his only constructive solution is to give the gov’t ownership of capital, which has proven impractical.

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