Capitalists rule. Ok? A commentary on Keith dowding

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 2 (3):323-341 (2003)
In response to criticisms made by Keith Dowding (hereafter KD) of `Capitalists Rule OK', this article argues (1) that there is a genuine structural conflict of interest between consumers and producers, voters and politicians, and capitalists and governments, and (2) that only by ad hoc and arbitrary limitations on the scope of the concept of power can it be denied that consumers collectively have power over producers and capitalists (collectively) have power over government. KD accepts that voters (collectively) have power over governments. Ironically, however, this is by far the most tenuous and generally problematic of the three putative power relations. Furthermore, there is no plausible way of conceding that voters (collectively) have power over politicians without also having to accept the validity of a power relation in the other two cases. The implication is that the thesis that is supposed to justify the standard North American or western European politico-economic system, according to which consumers and voters have power but capitalists do not, is nothing more than ideology, in Marx's sense of a fantastical picture of the world designed by the beneficiaries of the status quo to protect their privileged positions against legitimate demands for revolutionary change. The article concludes by taking up KD's primary objection to `Capitalists Rule', which is its rejection of the proposal to equate power with resources. According to KD's official definition, `resources' are the means of raising and lowering others' utilities. I pointed out in `Capitalists Rule' that KD himself acknowledges the inadequacy of this definition, since he almost immediately goes on to say that people do not necessarily have the power that is attributed to them. Obviously, `power' in this new sense must be something different, and is, in fact, the ability to get people to do what you want them to do or to refrain from doing things you do not want them to do. This is precisely my own proposed definition in `Capitalists Rule'. The only remaining disagreement arises from KD's wish to turn everything that lies between power in his first sense and power in his second (and my) sense into a further `resource'. I argue that this is obfuscatory and, in any case, infeasible. Key Words: power • democracy • capitalism.
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DOI 10.1177/1470594X030023003
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