Hello everyone! This was my response for a homework question for my political philosophy class. Our professor asked what Marxist argument we thought was ideal in relation to "just distributive" methods. Might include the book citation later. I might come off as repetitive, but we need to reach that word count (no shame!). Enjoy.
Of the options Marx offers, as presented by Kymlicka, introduces interesting arguments to consider. Of the options the most ideal argument seemed to be exploitation. Exploitation is perhaps the best argument; it presents significant points that challenge other distributive methods: liberal egalitarianism and libertarianism, for example. What distinguishes this “just distribution” method from the other methods is “[concentrating] on the more fundamental questions of production,” (Kymlicka 219). This is important because it aims to develop a greater understanding of “just distribution” by contributing another aspect.
The author expands on this idea, and presents the main inconsistency with strictly redistributing income, much like the other methods of “just distribution” attempt: “If all we do is redistribute income from those who own product assets to those who do not, then we will still have classes, exploitation, and hence the kind of contradictory interests that make justice necessary in the first place,” (Kymlicka 219). This quote encapsulates the main idea of placing an emphasis on production, as well, and its benefits.
What other methods fail to consider is that in a scheme of redistributive taxation, where it may leave a capitalist and worker with an equal income, the capitalist is still left with the overwhelming power to control the worker’s time. This presents an inconsistency that other “just distributive” methods, as presented by Rawls and Dworkin, have. According to Marx, by focusing on redistributive income or taxation, then it fundamentally remains indifferent to classism and exploitation. Recognizing exploitation is significant because it is an aspect of concentrating on basic queries of production. What does Marx mean by forces of production, rather than distribution? He says “[concentrating] on the more fundamental questions of production,” (Kymlicka 219) to include human labour power and means of production, because as aforementioned, it alleviates possibilities of exploitation.
I chose exploitation for the various previously mentioned advantages, but also because it fundamentally recognizes workers systematically subjugated by a capitalist society. This is done by workers having to perform tasks that they are compensated for less than the value of the commodities: “Marxists, however, operate with a more technical definition of exploitation. In this technical usage, exploitation refers to the specific phenomenon of the capitalist extracting more value from the worker’s labour (in the form of produced goods) than is paid back to the worker in return for that labour (in the form of wages)” (Kymlicka 227). This quote is important because it summarizes exploitation of workers by capitalists. This is the primary issue with exploitation and why it is important to recognize it, because the other distributive-focused methods structurally dismiss it.
Why did I not select alienation or need from Marx’s other arguments about “just distribution?” First, from my understanding, alienation referred to the disconnection between workers and their production, in particular, in a capitalist society. For me, this was bordering the central idea of exploitation, except I felt that exploitation was more encapsulating. More inclusive in the sense that pointed out inconsistencies in other methods (i.e. not recognizing the exploitation of workers despite, theoretically, an equal income). And I did not select the needs principle because as mentioned by Kymlicka, “Unfortunately, once we adopt this expansive interpretation of the needs principle, it no longer gives us guidance on how to distribute resources,” (Kymlicka 237). Along with fundamentally ignoring delving into elaborate circumstances, the needs principle is not ideal.
A “gap,” of many, according to Kymlicka, is that the premise for this argument is controversial. It’s “controversial” because the theory, the ‘labour theory of value’ of which it’s based is incoherent. It’s incoherent because it contradicts itself, according to Kymlicka: “[F]or the labour theory says that the value of an object is determined by the amount of labour currently required to produce it, not how much labour was actually involved in producing it,” (Kymlicka 227). Additionally, the argument becomes even more convolute with the introduction of technology. With technology, the labour value and production fluctuates and becomes more difficult to examine. The importance of exploitation, however, despite these counterarguments, is the moral approach it introduces, which I think needs to be accounted for in other redistributive methods.
After reading the arguments as presented by Marx and reflecting on the previous methods of “just distribution,” exploitation is the most ideal “just distribution” method. Rawls and Dworkin both presented strong and clear arguments about the significance of income and taxation distribution, but exploitation introduced, not just something new, but an all-together different approach. He reflected how these other methods ignored exploiting workers, to an extent, and how by focusing on production more, exploitation can be minimized. This, to me, is perhaps the most ideal case, one in which the means of production and wealth or taxation distributions are all utilized to maximize “just distribution."