Posted 14 days ago
Veneziani's review of John Roemer's socialist theory was excellent, at least for someone aware of, but generally unfamiliar, with his writing. I had read Roemer's "Market Socialism Renewed", published in a previous volume of this same journal, and loved it. The thing that has always bothered me about socialist theory was its insistence on central planning and the rejection of markets; I believe these are pillars of human civilization, not elements of capitalism. They are elements of our nature that must be incorporated into a more just system: exactly what Roemer is trying to build.
I'm not a self-proclaimed socialist merely because socialist economies have tended to fail throughout history (but believe me, I'm not a believer in capitalism either). This is exactly what Veneziani addresses by encouraging the study of Roemer's work. Socialist have made both theoretical and pragmatic mistakes in the past. The ultimate goal, however, of building a more just and egalitarian society, is a long process of trail-and-error, and writers like Roemer help us rethink the way we can envision a future.
First, the definition of exploitation as the "extraction of surplus value from workers at the point of production" has shown to not tell the whole story. It's intuitive at the outside, for example, given the following scenario:
workers who are “free” to sell their labor power are compelled to do so under unfavorable conditions, and labor power is the only good that is exchanged for less than its value, thus generating surplus value that can be appropriated by capitalists, thanks to their control over the production process.
But Roemer contends that economies can simply not have a surplus and that "there is no logical relation between exploitation and accumulation." Instead:
Asset inequalities are all that matter to give rise to class cleavages and exploitative relations.
That means that "exploitation arises because of differential ownership of (transferable) productive assets." The asset inequalities are due to either "'robbery and plunder' or from morally arbitrary factors, such as luck or socially determined saving preferences and skill."
This theory, of how exploitation works, leads Roemer not towards central planning like many theorists of the past, but to a believe that markets can be reordered to be more fair, just, and provide "equal opportunity." This rhetoric is a crucial difference, which I think can be used to promote democratic socialism in today's world.
The rest of Veneziani's article is a review of Roemer's market theories and his own critique of Roemer's work. I got confused at Veneziani's critiques; maybe it was because it was towards the end of the article or I'm not sure, but I didn't really get any of them. There was one point where he was refuting one of Roemer's ideas by arguing the "exploitation" functions between two capitalists, which I thought was very irrelevant to the larger piece of work. But, that is the more academic side of things, which myself, not being an academic, am lest interested in. It was a great article though, and highly recommend to get a well written intro into Roemer's work.