Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Oleg Komlik — Erich Fromm: Man is a cog in the vast economic machine


Psychologist Erich Fromm sums up the human condition under capitalism.
“In capitalism economic activity, success, material gains, become ends in themselves. It becomes man’s fate to contribute to the growth of the economic system, to amass capital, not for purposes of his own happiness or salvation, but as an end in itself. Man became a cog in the vast economic machine – an important one if he had much capital, an insignificant one if he had none – but always a cog to serve a purpose outside of himself.”
— Fromm, Erich. 1941. Escape from Freedom. New York : Rinehart (p. 95)

Does this rendition of alienation fits the facts? I believe it does.

The very name "capitalism" says it all. Other economic factors serve capital. Why? Because it is assumed that growth lifts all boats.

The fist assumption is unlimited notional desire for economic goods and scarcity of resources to provide those goods. Therefore, resources must be allocated optimally. Capital produces growth, so the primary economic goals are the formation and preservation of capital.

Capital formation is the sine qua non for growth and growth is the antidote to economic scarcity. Therefore humanity must serve capital, which in the final analysis implies that labor must serve capital, that is, workers must serve owners. Even owners are on the treadmill since natural capital depreciates and financial capital is always at risk.

Humans become means that serve capital formation, preservation, and deployment as an end.

Economic Sociology and Political Economy
Erich Fromm: Man is a cog in the vast economic machine
Oleg Komlik | founder and editor-in-chief of the ES/PE, Chairman of the Junior Sociologists Network at the International Sociological Association, a PhD Candidate in Economic Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben-Gurion University, and a Lecturer in the School of Behavioral Sciences at the College of Management Academic Studies

9 comments:

Dan Lynch said...

Ironically I'm halfway through Fromm's book at the moment. I expected it to be about psychology but was pleasantly surprised by Fromm's grasp of economics, history, and sociology. He has a dry writing style, but it's worth slogging through because it's thought provoking.

Just looked at Fromm's Wikipedia page and learned he got a PhD in sociology before turning to psychology.

Neil Wilson said...

That's why we have to turn it around.

MMT essentially changes the relationship with capitalism via an elected state. That state puts the containment vessel around the nuclear reactor of capitalism and reverses the relationship so that capitalism works for the people.

The change in the relationship is caused by creating a state where there are more jobs that people to fill them and forcing the capitalists to compete for scarce labour.

Matt Franko said...

"I plant, Apollos irrigates, but God makes it grow up." 1 Cor 3:6

SOMEBODY still has to plant and irrigate or the "grow up" is never going to happen...

Matt Franko said...

Tom when I read this part:

"economic activity, success, material gains, become ends in themselves. It becomes man’s fate to contribute to the growth of the economic system, to amass capital, not for purposes of his own happiness or salvation, but as an end in itself. "

I get deja vu and a feeling that the collection basket is soon to be passed down the pews....

We need to be well provisioned and even robustly if we are so led ... there is nothing wrong with this... of course in the end we cant take any of it with us but that doesnt have anything to do with what we do while we are here....

Auburn Parks said...

Neil-

For my money, this is the most important thing:

"MMT essentially changes the relationship with capitalism via an elected state. That state puts the containment vessel around the nuclear reactor of capitalism and reverses the relationship so that capitalism works for the people.

The change in the relationship is caused by creating a state where there are more jobs that people to fill them and forcing the capitalists to compete for scarce labour."

"capitalism" whatever that means should be a system that serves the public, and Govt (operating under MMT principles) is the only mechanism by which we can do it. Because its the only entity more powerful than the largest multinational Corps.

But the last part is the best. For the last 40 years our economy has been organized around this principle to "fight inflation" whatever that means:

More workers than jobs = capital has the leverage

its about damn time we revert back to the framework that worked so well after WWII:

More jobs than workers = labor has the leverage

Tom Hickey said...

Matt, the complaint of traditionalists aka "original" conservatives, is that liberalism is the new religion, based on scientism. There is ample historical evidence that this is the case in that the Enlightenment replaced the previous religious order that dominated European civilization (American civilization is essentially European) for over a millennium, which was based on the Great Chain of Being. The former culture and institutions were simply shifted to newly developed ones and parallel explanations provided as cultural narrative. Newton resulted in Deism as the naturalistic replacement of normative institutional Christianity, and Adam Smith's so-called invisible hand was interpreted as economic "deism" that resulted in spontaneous natural order. A new theology and priesthood was created to replace the obsolescent one. Under classical liberalism and neoliberalism, political liberalism is viewed as correlative with economic liberalism, which has been capitalism since the Industrial Revolution. "The free market' become the ordering principle. The idea is that in serving the free market, every one is served by it in accordance with merit and just deserts.

Malmo's Ghost said...

Fromm influenced my thinking greatly twenty or so years back. Not sure which book he wrote on an insight of his that stuck with me, but it went something to the effect that virtually all ideas we possess came from someone else. In other words there is virtually no original thinking/thinkers, except that which emanates from the very few. Sort of like the bible verse that says there's nothing new under the sun.

Tom Hickey said...

It used to be that everyone read Fromm's The Art of Loving. It's a good book, and established Fromm as a philosopher in the perennial tradition along with being a social scientist and psychologist.

His work on Marx is excellent (Marx's Concept of Man). He is one of the few that gets Marx as a philosopher more than anything else. As a sociologist, psychologist, and philosopher, Fromm was able to penetrate more deeply into Marx than most since Marx was all of these. Like Marx, Fromm also understood that economics is grounded in sociology, psychology, and philosophy. Those approaching Marx as an economist miss this. Economics was a necessary tool for Marx, added later in his work, in that freedom must be concretized and that means analyzing infrastructure, for which economics is indispensable, along with sociology, psychology and philosophy.

As philosopher Marx was a pragmatist who held that a genuine philosophy must lead to positive change. This is consistent with the ancients' conception of philosophy as a way of life based on unfolding excellence. Marx was also a perennialist to the degree that he emphasized unfolding individual and species potential. He saw previous attempts stillborn since they remained abstract — pie in the sky — and ignored the concrete.

Marx is about the self-liberation of the human species as objectified or concretized in history. Fromm pointed out that Marx has been incorrectly interpreted as the enemy of freedom, whereas he actually considered himself a new prophet of freedom, one who sought to make freedom concrete rather than merely abstract. The task is to objectify freedom socially through action. Like most libertarians, Marx held that by nature man is free, which is why history has a liberal bias. Freedom is not something that needs to be added but rather the obstacles removed. Based on his analysis, Marx viewed property as a major obstacle.

Fromm has an impressive grasp of Marx and also of the history of economics. For those interested in Marx, Marx's Concept of Man is worth a look.

See also Fromm's The Authoritarian Personality

Malmo's Ghost said...

Just pulled out my copy of Fromm's "The Sane Society", which I read decades back. Have not looked at it since way back then. I think I quit my teaching job at the time after reading it. The margins within are cluttered with my notes--boy was I alienated then. Forgot how many Marxists views on labor I possessed and still do :)