He can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
The same cigarettes as me

The Rolling Stones

 One of the more thoughtful defenses of capitalism is that through its workings we can calculate the needs of production, an ability its defenders believe would be impossible under socialism.  In his seminal paper “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth” libertarian founding father Ludwig Von Mises argues that although a socialist state can use money as a universal medium of exchange, such money cannot “fill in a socialist state the role it fills in a competitive society in determining the value of production goods.” I might come back to the general argument later, but something I read early on is worth its own entry.

In Mises’ example, if people generally value 1 cigar as much as 5 cigarettes, if those in charge of determining rationing of these goods for some reason cannot arrange to distribute tobacco products according to this evaluation, “everybody getting [more] cigarettes would suffer as against those getting [more] cigars. For the man who gets one cigar can exchange it for five cigarettes…”

But is money the only possible (or even the best) way to determine what and how much is valuable enough to produce?  A book came out a couple years ago that explores some ways in which money and a pro-market ideology can distort our “values” to the point of self-destruction. The full title, funnily enough, is: Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming . Here’s a review:  “Merchants of Doubt”

The book shows how

scientists such as Fred Seitz, Robert Jastrow and Bill Nierenberg, along with the institutes through which they, and their kind, have lent their services to a range of rightwing, free-market foundations and institutions including the Competitive Enterprise Institute… When not funded by the tobacco industry, many of these outfits often receive backing from fossil-fuel companies such as Exxon.

The article starts with the example of these capitalist fundamentalists accusing environmentalist Rachel Carson of mass murder. My last entry linked to an article that described the “logic of capitalism … which, in order to sustain its expanding reproduction, has to create new[er] and new[er] demands.” Such logic leads to the spread of misinformation about things like tobacco, that has cost millions of lives, and global warming, that could (it has started already) wipe out countless millions of others. How do we calculate that cost? And isn’t this accusation projection? Just asking…


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