The Means of Production – Religion and Politics

Kurt's Religion and Politics

It’s a common theme in both strong Socialism and Communism, that the “people should own the means of production.” Forgive me for saying so, but this is very much a pie-in-the-sky idea.

Allow me to explain.

To begin with, we must ask what sounds like a simple question. What is that question? “What actually constitutes the means of production?”

There are certain things that can be readily argued to be part of that whole. They’re not the totality of it, but they can largely be counted in the group.

People who make microchips, or even computers, generally must have very specific equipment to do their job. Some of that gear is extremely specialized for the tasks at hand, and lots of it is quite expensive.

When you talk about the makers of MRI machines or ultrasound units—even of high-powered microscopes—you can make much the same argument.

But what about farms? Is it the land? Is it the seeds that’re sown. Harvesting equipment? Plowing tools?

It can certainly be argued that any and all of these can be considered, “means of production.” That said, I want you to consider another idea.

In the old days, a farmer might have a team of mules or oxen. He had to come up with the seed himself somehow. That farmer would then harvest his crop by hand, once it was sufficiently mature so to do.

So in reality, what was the actual means of production? Well it seems to me it was the farmer himself. He did all the work, and where you can argue the seed (that he had to find some method to procure), or the land was the means of production, in reality, it’s entirely fair to say the farmer was who made all of that happen.

This applies equally to a series of professions. Is a doctor the means of production? What about a lawyer?

Can this argument be used for software developers?

The last three mentioned, bring up another salient point. If you think you can write software (even something as “simple as” SQL queries), you can buy a computer for very little, and get more or less gratis versions of various company’s Structured Query Language servers and development products.

My advice to you then would be, “If you want to become the means of production for writing SQL, have at it, nobody’s stopping you.”

The point here is pretty simple, you can argue all you want that a scalpel is a doctor’s means of production. That said, I would not advise you attempt to take that tool, and use it on others without at the very least an extensive knowledge of what you’re doing.

So, what again is the means of production? Are you claiming the scalpel or the operating theater, or would you argue it’s the doctor?

If it’s the doctor, even assuming you could put the means of production into the hands of the average Joe, what exactly does that mean?

Do you require the medical professional to work for free? Is he or she paid in food and lodging alone?

We used to have a name for this type of behavior, a single word even. What’s that word? “Slavery!”

When you assume the means of production are things, not people, talking about taking them away from their rightful owners and putting them in the hands of the people, sounds much more tenable.

Even then, you must ignore the fact the owners of those items or properties, have specific knowledge that at least makes it possible for them to keep things working.

Now let’s talk for a moment about owner of an automobile manufacturing company. Surely he or she doesn’t actually know how to make cars?

Actually, if the facility is small enough, he or she just might.

Okay, how about a major maker of forms of transportation. You know, those entities that manufacture thousands or tens or thousands or more vehicles a year? Surely their owners don’t know how to create the parts of a sedan or put them together?

Can I just point out that, in such plants, the chances are nobody knows how to put together a minivan from end to end, and if they do the chances are, they either teach others their specific roles, or spend their time working on one or more production lines but do not end up doing the entire job.

So the idea that owning the means of production is a, forgive me, productive one is a bad argument to begin with. That’s particularly true when you consider the need for many workers to possess very specific knowledge that makes it possible for them to do what they do—making them an essential part of the supposed means of production.

In all of this, I haven’t yet mentioned one of the most significant entanglements. That would be that the idea of “the people” owning the means of production never quite works out that way. Instead, it’s almost always a totalitarian government bureaucracy that does so.

So in the end, unless someone comes up with a manner in which the transfer of the means of production to the actual people can be achieved, that’s not who’ll end up in “ownership.”

Such are some of the issues surrounding the idea that the “people own the means of production.” You can be sure there are plenty more I’ve forgotten. You may be equally certain, there are issues I haven’t yet considered—even at my moderately advanced age.

Considering this is a base concept of a couple of philosophies that underpin certain forms of government, the idea of implementation of those schools of thought should give even the casual observer pause. Imagine how the more astute viewer must see the idea of their ensconcement.

So, you may think the concept of ownership by “the people,” of the “means of production” to be a good or proper one. If so, my challenge is that you go back, reread what I’ve said, and give answers that would satisfy not just my trepidation, but the consternation of both the people at large, and those who better understand these difficulties than do I.

Thanks for reading, and may your time be good.

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