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Resolved: Capitalism Has Been The Exclusive Liberator From Grinding Poverty

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/5/2017 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 778 times Debate No: 103800
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I. The Context:

Socialism is often seen as the great liberator of the poor. Conversely, that capitalism is the great oppressor has been asserted at best with theoretical or philosophical basis, at worst with sophist platitudes and false data. The author proposes therefore to challenge popular culture`s consensus that, empirically, capitalism is detrimental to the poor.

II. The Challenge:

As defined in the context, Pro challenges any who wish to engage in this debate to defeat the conclusion outlined in the title: That the only cases in which the masses have escaped the kind of grinding poverty that the overwhelming majority of people have been in since the dawn of time, which includes lack of access to clean water, lack of adequate nutrition, and so on so forth, have been when they have had capitalism and largely free trade. Digressions into the philosophical moral propriety of an economic system ought be penalized, but mentions of empirical data such as loss of human life are permitted. The first round will consist only of constructive arguments (no rebuttals), after which the participants may (and must) refute those claims in the previous argument(s) proposed by the other. The last round will be closing statements in which no new arguments may be stated.

III. The Claims:

We may begin our examination of the history of poverty by looking at the state of the world in 1820. Nearly the entire world is poor, with a billion people in poverty and a scant 60 million not. (

In terms of economic policy, nearly the entire world is under the thumb of mercantilism, with the notable exception of the United States and to a much more limited extent the Ottoman Empire. Trade is seen as a zero-sum game in the which one country wins, the others lose.

Enter the increasingly dominant notion of capitalism and free trade, which was to change the world forever. The following dynamic graphic is a representation of the data of GDP per capita in this paper (

Observe the following countries:
1. The USA: In terms of the size of government and as to the welfare state, it was non-existent. The GDP amounted to 710 million dollars, and government spending only 19 million, just 2.6% percent. The US had free trade essentially since independence. Indeed there were tariffs in the nineteenth century, but they amounted to be only on average in the 20% neighborhood, and had as their principle goal the financing of the government. (source for tariff rate:
2. The UK: The great proponent of free trade in the 19th century. Acheived near total free trade in 1846, with the repeal of the corn laws, coinciding with it pulling way ahead of the rest of Europe. Note that its colonial holdings essentially do not expand until the scramble for Africa in the 1870s, so this growth at least in that period cannot be attributed to colonial exploitation.
3. Argentina (a tiny dot above the 1560ish level). Pursued liberal trade and limited government intervention in the economy, which according to OECD was "measured and targeted" (rather than wholesale like present day economies) Quoting OECD, "Similarly, the liberal trade policy made a noteworthy contribution to early 20th-century growth." Once again, the free flow of capital, limited if any government intervention and free trade propel a very poor ex-colonial backwater into competing with Great Britain for wages in the 20th century. (
4. Germany: Mostly stagnant from our beginning of 1820 until the 1850s. It was divided up into many tiny states, all of whom had their own customs laws. A merchant could cross more than 18 borders. Germany subsequently implemented the Zollverein, and the internal customs barriers fell, being totally eradicated in 1871 with the foundation of the German empire. Economic growth ensued.
5. France: Rivalled Great Britain on freedom of trade in the period discussed. a leader in economic growth.

And so on, so on. No society ever harvested the fruits of the West, which are a decent standard of living with access to the amenities of modernity, without planting its roots, which are capitalism and more-or-less free trade.


No one is denying capitalism as a source of social change and concrete improvement. The socialism of Hegel and Marx was directed against the radical modern capitalism of their time: not capitalism in-itself (which in fact, Hegel defends). It is the extent of capitalism and the institutional practices that ensue from its development over time that has been argued to restrict the poor, causing detriment that could be practically abated by employing some further form or component of socialism. Unlimited radical capitalism post the fall of the USSR, the position you seem to advocate, is oppressive even if restricted capitalism can abet freedom and a raised quality of life for the individual citizen when conjoined with socialist policies. In simpler terms, the gains of individual capital of course do not help the poor unless they go through a collective filter and infrastructure where this help can be implemented: unless they go through a restricted form of capitalism that is conjoined with socialist welfare policies.


Firstly, I would like to challenge your section labelled 'context.'
Your history of capitalism is incomplete: you jump to 1820, the nadir of the Industrial Revolution, missing out the 600 years or so of relevant economic development. "Enter the increasingly dominant notion of capitalism and free trade" in 1820? Screw you capitalism pre-1820s. What this translates into is the proposition that 'modern capitalism has been the exclusive liberator from grinding poverty', which is a much lesser claim, but one I will interpret you as meaning. If so, you instantly use Marx's economic theory: you argue that the economy and technology is the base on which society is built and that the capitalist development of the economy led to social progress.

One criticism of this is such:
a) You ought not to conflate the fruits of the human sciences with the fruits of capitalism, though the two have grown adnate together, post-Luther. Change and social progress can come from beyond the economy. Innovations in thought, breakthroughs in science, fashions, cultural events, the relations of production, can change society alleviating the dire conditions of poverty and even becoming the base for capitalism. Couldn't I turn your point on its head and say that 'social relations and innovations and not modern capitalism reduced social poverty'? For instance, from the decline of the monarchy, we see state taxes not being wasted on crushing foreign wars but rather frugally invested in domestic infrastructure. We see a rise in social mobility (no longer operating under a hereditary system) which allows the impoverished to rise above their feudal stations. We see new agrarian and industrial innovation, enabling more successful communication, division of labour, distribution and production of goods leading to population growth... all of which was supported by trade and capitalism but originated beyond it, in people before the pounds. For instance, the steam engine was made in this period after a long process of discovery in academic thought which has begun in early humanism (experiments to actualise it occurring in the mid-1500s). I.e. Capitalism was no sudden epiphany in 1820: it needed a societal change to make the Industrial Revolution occur and a Golden Age to emerge. The Industrial Revolution and not capitalism reduced poverty.

This is just one criticism of your view; I can provide more in succeeding rounds. With it, I will also reconstruct the part of Marx you miss out portraying modern capitalism as oppressive:

a) The infrastructure of modern capitalism (MC) and alienated labour.
What MC resulted to in the 1900s and to whom Marx was addressing in his much socially-disdained writings was the mechanistic model of labour emergent in Fordism and Taylorism. Reductively the notion was thus: in employing a worker for his labour per hour, the capitalist was exploiting them by only paying them reduced or subsistence wages, and not the actual value of their work (the capitalist profiting the surplus value themselves). This exploitation alienated man from his labour-products for as soon as he acted upon an object at work it became the property of someone else and he saw little of the wealth which his actions had produced. He became a cog in the rich man's machine and two classes emerged: the proletariat (the worker, a slave within the hours of his contract) and the wealthy class with a bourgeoisie agenda, pressuring the executive law-makers to protect their property rights. The false premise here was: because I own the factories, I own everything produced by the factories which is mine and protected by the law.

b) "Poverty is the shadow of wealth." (Gans) To become rich, the wealthy class needed the capital produced by and denied to the lower class whose interests were not being represented fairly. Economic contingencies put the labour force out of work, whilst the capitalist still maintained their hegemony. When there was less demand for a product, or a price crash occurred, the worker and his family became destitute. When commodities were created in such unaffordable quantities as to debase their economic value, an economic slump could put thousands out of work. If an economic competitor cut production costs by having better technology, all factories had to replicate this as to not become obsolete, meaning that a mass corpus of workers were replaced by technology (causing poverty). Unskilled labours accustomed to one job on a production line found it hard to find suitable work again. And thus, the high population of the unemployed and finite number of jobs made it so that workers drove down their wages as to become more employable, perpetuating their own poverty. And, in the meantime, the most successful capitalists flourished, monopolies made, and the unfair distribution of wealth festered.

This is just a quick adumbration of Marxist theory: I am by no means advocating it, but leaving it open to rational criticism (don't dismiss it just because of the reputation of Marx: tell me why you dismiss it).

As for your five examples, they can be reduced to three: the USA, Europe, and Argentina, given that the social-economic models of England, France and the dissolved Prussian states operated reciprocally, as to successfully rival one another. Unfortunately, I only have the space to briefly cover one, choosing the one most readers will be interested in:

1) The USA
The USA traditionally, from the ideations of Locke and Paine in the constitution, operated via a laissez faire model of government that believed that the less the state intervened in society, the better this was for all. A man owned what he produced (under Locke's theory) and then could sell this for a price, making his own way in the land of opportunity. Only then, resources were claimed by corporations and the law, meaning that the individual could only sell his own labour or what he had produced having bought his resources, requiring prior wealth.

So, driven to the factories, the mass production of goods their led to the introduction of credit spending (the spending of money one did not have). Promises and obligations were made on Wall Street. People couldn't pay off their credit in economic slumps (such as the one post-WW1 were the USA had made a fortune selling goods to Europe). And, thus, the economy crashed and mass poverty ensued.

So in fact, the welfare state you mentioned was a socialist invention of Roosevelt in the 1930s in reaction to this, creating a political obligation for the future federal state to intervene in the lives of impoverished people. After the Great Depression (caused by capitalism and the credit system), people no longer wanted a laissez faire government and the seeming lethargy of Hoover, but an active government who created the conditions and institutions that benefited the interests of Americans through the New Deal and beyond...
Debate Round No. 1


As this debate format permits only a certain amount of written words, I will take the unsual step of acknowledging my opponent`s arguments and will not drop them as I would be considered to do by not responding. I make this limited rebuttal to allow him space to make a more detailed analysis of my other examples without making new points that would demand space in their rebuttal.

Responding therefore to a few of his points, I hope to make a few non-controversial explanations that will not warrant too much of his writing space should he choose to reply.

First, as to why I chose the time period I did: As I am focusing on capitalism and free trade, the pre-19th century era, which was marked as I said by mercantilism, is interesting only as a proof through negative means rather than positives, as I could show the effects of an economic system marked by the use of military force, subsidies and tariffs. Free trade did not exist in the era of mercantilism. The country with relatively free trade policies was the Netherlands. "In spite of the considerable amount of internal and external trade that developed in and among the European powers between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries, very little of it 2008 Free Market Forum 9 could be characterized as “free trade.” Internal and external markets were highly controlled and regulated throughout Europe with a few exceptions (Holland)." ( You`ll note that the Netherlands, in 1800 as the Batavian republic and yet untouched in its mainland by invasion nor blockaded as part of Napoleon's continental system, is far ahead of the rest of Europe in economic prosperity. In short, the challenge is that which is in the section labelled "The Challenge". "That the only cases in which the masses have escaped the kind of grinding poverty that the overwhelming majority of people have been in since the dawn of time, which includes lack of access to clean water, lack of adequate nutrition, and so on so forth, have been when they have had capitalism and largely free trade." But in the spirit of fellowship and appreciation for your acceptance of this topic, I won`t consider you to have dropped the point about free trade, an integral part of the challenge.

Second, of course I can attribute the industrial revolution`s success with capitalism! Consider the invention of the first practical steam engine, made by Thomas Newcomen. ( Was it made with the funding of a government bureau? Was it made by endowment of a non-profit to be used freely for the benefit of mankind? Was it funded by a disbursement from the Crown`s purse? Of course not! It was made by Thomas Newcomen with money obtained either through his merchant family (equity financing) or ironmonger`s business (retained earnings). I submit that few if any of the pertinent inventions causing or advancing the industrial revolutions were made on any other economic terms than private individuals with privately owned money not derived from state sources unless obtained as salary or other compensation and not as a research grant, and that these individuals subsequently sold these inventions. That`s what capitalism is, and I propose that if these inventors knew with certainty at the beginning (as if the government had said so) they would get no or incommensurate return out of their investment of time and money into their invention they hardly would have invested the resources into making them. People do in fact precede pounds, but people are also strongly motivated by pounds. You speak of social innovations and I concur, but from the fact that social changes set the stage for and greatly facilitated capitalism does not follow the notion that capitalism was not the liberator of the masses from destitution. The doctor administers the antidote and both can be said to have cured the patient, however we do not say that doctors in a general sense are the cure to poisoning, but antidotes.

Third, I propose capitalism and free trade as being the ideal system not out of philosophical attractiveness, which I admit they possess only in a way that appeals to a libertarian few, but out of its telos. It has accomplished what the Roman emperors, popes, and Chinese dynasties could not; it has ended poverty essentially in an entire continent and continues to free the poor. Rather than redistribute a very small portion of wealth by force amongst an enormous population to try and combat poverty that way, it had the novel idea of radically increasing the wealth, to the point that it became impossible for the poor not to be participants in it to a far greater extent in absolute terms than they ever had before. Indeed, they were the chief beneficiaries of technology. The rich in Ancient Greece had no need of CDs, they could simply summon the greatest minstrels to play for them. The rich in ancient Rome had no need of Wikipedia, they had access to an enormous corpus of information in their private libraries. The great kings of Europe had no need of guns, they could marshal through their means an army equipped with exorbitantly expensive equipment and crush any peasant uprising. The emperors of China had no need for air conditioning, they could compel slaves to fan them, and the list goes on and on and on. Therefore, Marxism`s claim to the immorality or "oppressiveness" of capitalism is not interesting in light of capitalism's empirical benefits for the poor and hence when I suspended that digression in my challenge to this debate.

Your US example I will address in a future rebuttal to provide you with space.


I'm afraid Marxism is pertinent here and you must address it: no system can be called a 'liberator from grinding poverty', which produces grinding poverty and a status quo by which a subservient class tend to the needs of their superiors. This is counter-intuitive, which is why I raised the point. By the same logic, we can call ancient Athens a liberating society for empirically benefiting people through the 'polis' at the price of their enslavement, when in fact the rigid institutional economic system also limited people to poverty (something existent in Marx's day and in our own). This is not an ethical point, but a descriptive one. When the working class of industrial Britain were just given subsistence wages, as the ancient slaves were, in so that they could be continually utilised as a workforce, I do not call this liberation from poverty. I call this the extension of it, the iron law of wages. The restriction of freedoms at this time, call for you to change the resolve from capitalism being a 'liberator' to an 'abating force' of poverty. Of course, your definition of poverty seems to be material-based, the 'access to clean water' and 'adequate nutrition' and so forth ignoring socialist societies like Vietnam which were organised into villages and cotton industries where every member was sustained without free-trade capitalism. In other words, I accuse you of defining 'poverty' based on the lack of capital gain (capitalism) thereby using circular reasoning. What is poverty? The lack of capitalism! Thereby capitalism prevents poverty. Yay!

"Free trade did not exist in the era of mercantilism.": this is incorrect. Undeniably, the state extended less authority over private companies trading abroad than it does today, allowing some tariff-free trade to occur between some private individuals and others. Take the Elizabethan privateers. If you knew the period well or even read that article in full that you presented, you would know that Holland and particularly the Antwerp markets were the biggest European trading ports of the Elizabethan period. The author pulls Holland out as an exception to regulation. People got rich and the Crown could not touch their profits unless they sponsored or owned part of the fleet used for trade. Ergo, free trade did exist in the era of mercantilism. But my point here was: why did the Industrial Revolution occur when it did? Why not in mercantilism, which held many of the practices of capitalism? Could it be that certain social forces were at play causing new innovations to happen? That the trajectory of humanism (etc.) proved to be the impetus for development and not capitalism?

Raising the question of Newcomen, leads precisely to this difficult question: was capitalism ancillary to his success, or could the steam engine have been devised in a socialist state? Of course, resources and capital were required to realise the steam engine: it didn't run on thin air. So I turned your argument on its head to aver that, yes, a socialist state which invests resources in government-owned programmes and distributes resources to people can lead to concrete social advancements. The USSR undeniably made scientific progress under socialism by investing capital into social programs, most obviously being the space program. To state that socialist or quasi-socialist countries live in a static bubble of no progression is clearly erroneous. Ergo, I don't see the inventions of people in the Industrial Revolution as dependent on the system of modern capitalism but rather as dependent on people who have resources and an intellectual tradition, who just happen to be innovating within a capitalist framework. This is a fine distinction, I realise. Yet, technological and intellectual progression over time cannot be ignored either as preventing poverty to capitalism and free trade. To argue 'we live under capitalism and free trade' and that 'things have never been better' is fine: to make the former the cause of the latter over the gradual progression of societies and ideas over time needs to be proved. The onus is on you. Your reference to the 'telos' of capitalism being empirical development I find dubious as well: as if the development of minds was utterly inscribed onto the system of economy, ready to unfurl over time. There is no intrinsic purpose to capitalism, no essence by which capitalism must produce thus. I am arguing a constructivist account of human development, coming from individuals utilising their surroundings to solve problems. As such, I extend my arguments from R1 here, now better-explained (I hope).

As to the other two points, you so charitably gave me space to write about:
2) The UK
You make the claim here that economic growth caused by free-trade capitalism in the 19th century ensued in individual liberation from poverty. I agree up to an extent domestically, but at the cost of the wealth of foreign powers.

Domestically, up until 1807, this of course did not extend to slaves in the British Empire who did not have the right of proprietorship. Women likewise were constricted in their ownership of property and right to work, many finding themselves in workhouses. But okay, the men were better off in general at least from industrial boom. More capital, more infrastructure, less poverty. Providing pay and employment goes up and prices and living costs decrease the impoverished are definitely better off, in that they have more capital. So what if some of our profits come from exploiting LEDCs and (economic) slaves, enhancing our freedom at their expense? We pious gain, they lose, in the full-swing of the Protestant work ethic. In the height of the industrial era we are imposing our technical infrastructure onto our colonies which we can exploit, as the USSR exploited eastern Europe via the Comecon scheme, and they are powerless. We gain profit from India, while the people suffer over our rule. In fact, with our unchallenged naval hegemony post-Napoleon and Russian decline, we can control most marine trade: China, Argentina (etc.) are all in our authority. We possess the seas. We can make trade deals with everyone because there is no one who can compete with us. Aren't we just the harbingers of liberty and wealth? Our industrialised economy, which is seeing decline in urban working class living conditions, is so much more expedient than other economies and our naval power is so dominant that we can freely trade with every nation, out-competing their lesser-developed economic systems entirely (selling cheaper and more mass produced goods) putting thousands of European manufacturers out of work and lowering the average price value of goods in these states. By freely-trading with everyone with a cost-cutting and more efficient manufacturing business, we undermine foreign economies and upholster our own.

You can check my history if you like, but this explains how 19th century English economy came at the expense of the wealth of other nations they traded with as well as from the fact that they were the only mass free-trading capitalist society at the period, holding a better domestic manufacturing industry meaning they could dominate the foreign markets. It wasn't just the qualifications of 'capitalism' and 'free-trade' that led to their economic success.

3) Argentina
Not my sphere of expertise, I will be brief on this topic highlighting parts of the article you gave than run contrary to laissez-faire free trade capitalism. It didn't say that free-trade capitalism was entirely the reason for economic growth: it spoke of a nation with a stable government investing in infrastructure, on the base of strong national education and agriculture, that became economically successful when it allowed private enterprise to catalyse its growth and make the national economy for efficient, within the framework of its laws (like the currency convertibility law). People using capitalism, over capitalism using them (my argument).
Debate Round No. 2


I congratulate my opponent on a very innovative way of attempting to shift in an ingenious—dare I say, Fabian?—manner from the assertion that is interesting to most people, that capitalism does or does not advance the material interests of the poor in absolute terms, into a nebulous utopian notion where he rejects such basic necessities as nutrition and clean water, as evidenced by where he uses Vietnam as some sort of example of a society which had some point in the indefinite past overcame poverty. As my opponent specified neither time period nor provided a source, he made my research difficult, but nevertheless, I looked at ALL of Vietnam`s postwar history to try and find an example of that people breaking out of absolute poverty, and amazingly, I found it!

Poverty is now at an all time low of 17%.

Back to your counter examples:
1. I won`t bother refuting your theory (not actually a refutation, see the following) of the US` decline in poverty as a result of Roosevelt, especially since poverty was dealt a gigantic blow from 1850 to 1900, long before wage laws were ever instituted, for example. Capitalism and free trade were already doing away with bad wages, despite all the rich's oppressions. That leads to an interesting observation. In capitalism, the participants of whom do not by the way have a goal of enriching one another but rather themselves, they end up enriching their neighbor at the same time. Conversely, communism, which has the aim of enriching one`s neighbor or community, has failed.
My sources:

Wages exploded over this period, and that is inflation adjusted as curiously the dollar hardly changed in value over that period.

Let`s compare Soviet outcomes over their history. As Soviet poverty data from this period is lacking, let`s look at something really basic, like nutrition.

Hmm, not great.

Now, re: my opponent`s citation of Holland as an example of free trade as though it were a counterexample, he would have seen in my previous article that I myself had cited Holland as an example of free trade and pointed out that by the graphic I cited in the beginnning, GDP/capita in 1800 was highest in Holland, and by a long shot. But in the article I cited, the iron summary of the matter remains the following: "In spite of the considerable amount of internal and external trade that developed in and among the European powers between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries, very little of it could be characterized as “free trade.” Internal and external markets were highly controlled and regulated throughout Europe with a few exceptions (Holland)"

Re: The UK`s economic success. Note my opponent first said he would group my French, British, and German examples as Europe and refute them that way, but then fell back to the UK individually. Why did he that, I query? It`s quite easy to attribute the UK`s success to imperialism, indeed, their imperialist activities were the most widespread and most intense. But what of Belgium? The densely populated yet globally impotent little country with not a single overseas colony until 1885 that industralized on par with Britain? I suspend any further investigation on Britain on my part on the basis of a lack of need and in the interest of a lack of space.

From "The History of Belgium" wikipedia article, discussing France`s 1795 annexation of Belgium
"France promoted commerce and capitalism, paving the way for the ascent of the bourgeoisie and the rapid growth of manufacturing and mining. In economics, therefore, the nobility declined while the middle class Belgian entrepreneurs flourished because of their inclusion in a large market, paving the way for Belgium's leadership role after 1815 in the Industrial Revolution on the Continent." This section quotes two books.

Well, there`s the tried and true recipe for ending poverty at work again. Commerce and capitalism.

Back to the question of Argentina, what did Argentina do to so greatly outpace its peers?

"Prior to 1914 a growth strategy based on openness to capital inflows (note: my bolding), frontier expansion, and the strong pursuit of comparative advantage based on primary exports carried the country to very high levels of income per capita income."

Now, on to Argentina`s trade policy:

"(Shortened to save space) Suppose also that, imports in the initially open economy would be 40% of GDP (the figure last seen in Argentina circa 1910, the last date when both it and the rest of the world were close to fully open). Let us assume that intermediate inputs account for 50% of imports, and capital goods account for 25% the roughly stable figures seen in decades of historical data in Argentina (Berlinski 2003). Using the Estevadeordal and Taylor (2013) standard open-economy neoclassical model, we could conclude that the trade taxes would lower GDP by roughly 0.200 log points or 20% in the long run steady state, given the import shares as above. Two thirds of this would arise due to higher costs of intermediates (an effect analogous to a negative productivity shock) and one third would arise from the higher cost of capital goods (an effect analogous to a negative savings rate shock). These are quantitatively large effects when the full gap to be explained is 1.000 log points, since they explain one fifth of Argentina’s decline"

In short, Argentina`s protectionism along with the developed world's. rather than spurring an "infant industry", killed the golden goose and undid its progress. But when free trade was around, Argentina was right there with Britain, the USA, and the settler nations. Free trade aided the developing nation of Argentina, and protectionism was its undoing. The time-tested remedy of capitalism and free trade strikes again.


With relation to the absolute necessity of capitalism to cause the Industrial Revolution, I submit that we will only ever have inductive means to reach such a conclusion, which I am attempting to use. It will forever be impossible to rule out all the myriad hypothetical economic systems as means of liberating the poor, and thus impossible to show that capitalism is a necessary condition. Good thing I did not do that. I only stated in the title that "Capitalism has been the exclusive liberator from grinding poverty" and in the challenge that "That the only cases in which the masses have escaped the kind of grinding poverty that the overwhelming majority of people have been in since the dawn of time, which includes lack of access to clean water, lack of adequate nutrition, and so on so forth, have been when they have had capitalism and largely free trade." I never proposed to prove more than this.

But since you brought up the USSR as a socialist state, and by my inference, your best example, let`s review the Soviet Union`s final track record.

"Komsomolskaya Pravda, the party's youth newspaper, blames the system (of which it is a part) as it points out that before the 1917 revolution, Russia ranked seventh in the world in per capita consumption and now is 77th -- "just after South Africa but ahead of Romania."

"If we compare the quality of life in the developed countries with our own," the paper said, "we have to admit that from the viewpoint of civilized, developed society the overwhelming majority of the population of our country lives below the poverty line."

In short, the Soviet Union, which you gave as an example of a socialist country, by its own admission, failed to eliminate poverty. You`ll need another example to dispute the resolution. Now my space is no more.



I believe that our debate can now be reduced down to the examples alone:

0) Vietnam: If you accept this example, by logical necessity haven't you lost the motion that 'capitalism is the exclusive liberator from grinding poverty'?
To it, I would like to conjoin the social model of village communities and self-sufficient, albeit, small societies in which people have both adequate nutrition and hydration. Technically they are impoverished, not having the capitalist generation of profit, but can exist and innovate within their own system of economics perfectly well. If you disagree, I would find a concrete definition of poverty useful which exempts them.

1) The USA: I put emphasis on the Great Depression to attempt to exemplify how growth between 1850-1900 was unsustainable and culminated in the imposition of mass poverty nation-wide come the Wall Street crash. In your response, you claimed that plutocrats benefit their fellow man by pursuing individual wealth: please explain how this is the case to me so I know what argument I'm addressing (the 'trickling down' metaphor or what have you). Additionally, taking America in isolation, I think you will of course agree that slaves were not liberated from grinding poverty from the Emancipation Act through the economic boom of industrialised America, thereby constraining the parameters of your argument to favour only the white population.

2) Holland: yes, I know that case was in the citation, that was my point. It exemplified a case of free trade in the era of mercantilism you claimed did not exist. So, subsequently, I will now re-interpret your sentence that, "Free trade did not exist in the era of mercantilism", into "Free trade did exist in the era of mercantilism, but only very marginally." Somewhat undermining the authority of your own prose.

3) UK: Don't reduce my argument. It was not just imperialism I attributed their success to, but a more refined domestic manufacturing business and their unrivalled naval capacities for trade, enabling them to out-compete foreign markets. Did you even read my response? Regardless, we cannot forget that around a third of British exports went to its Empire. I did not conflate Germany and France into this narrative because it burdened me with a much too broad of an investigation point for so little space. The general crux I gave in R1 though, in that they emulated the British model of industry. I will say this in verbose terms as follows, to make the point of having not intentionally missed them out:

4) Germany: the home of humanism, in 1850 employed the more successful innovations of the English Industrial Revolution to enhance its capital gain, meaning that England had less of an economic advantage over it. The proliferation of banks in the period, though leading to economic depressions and slumps, and growth of the bourgeois class (as in England and France) does indicate the increasing wealth of the country. I agree. And, free-trade capitalism definitely aided the commercial benefits of the Revolution, though it was landlocked and thereby geopolitically limited in its 'free' trade (tariffs actually rose significantly in this period). Yet, could this growth of occurred without the technological advances Marx so praised? And, did these technological advances emerge from capitalism or from intellectual and communal innovation? That is the question I raised in R1 which remains currently unanswered.

5) France: your discussion of "the ascent of the bourgeoisie", because, you know, the bourgeoisie represent everyone in 18th and 19th century France (sarcasm), does not display the extirpation of poverty but the enrichment of a certain set of people in society. The conversion of the poor into cogs in the industrial machine that produced the middle class. I am now positive that you are defining poverty as the absence of modern capitalism, which is absurd. It's as though you're omitting the Terror under Robespierre, the Long Depression of the French economy, and the plight of the working man under these social models where poverty was either produced cyclically in economic slumps or imposed on him, not given. I again extend my previous arguments to state that France copied Industrial Revolution practices as not to become obsolete in the global trading market, becoming more efficient in its domestic economy, and uplifting its capital income as a whole.
This still doesn't mean that the average man was liberated from poverty by necessity. Say I had 1,000,000 livres and gave them to a city with 20 citizens: if 1 or 2 people have ownership of all the currency owning the means of production in which I invest, those 19 or 18 people aren't necessarily any better off, except for the fact that the social infrastructure has improved to protect the minority's power. I need to know how you think capital was distributed in order to argue whether people became richer en masse.

6) Argentina: I commend you on your technical economic skill: less so, for translating it into reasonable analysis. I'm finding my criticism of your viewpoint to be so reoccurring: I agree that free-trade capitalism can abet economic growth opening up potential in a country for the reduction of social poverty. What causes the utilisation of this system however I see as a greater impetus for social change and equally believe that other economic systems could be utilised (with less institutional impieties) that reduce poverty. Additionally, even if free-trade capitalism is utilised, I would pose the question of what ensures that the distribution of wealth liberates the masses from poverty and not just those on the top of the corporate hierarchy: i.e. does socialist government regulations (e.g. minimum wage increases, worker protections... also need to be implemented?).

7) The USSR: to reconstruct myself, the point was thus: socialist countries can innovate technical advances (such as in the space race) by using resources and intellectual traditions outside the capitalist system. If this is true, then mass industrial advances can also occur in a socialist state meaning that capitalism is not necessary for such events as the Industrial Revolution to occur. The liberation from poverty can come from socialist-collective enterprise, devising solutions to it that improve overall social functioning, rather than just individual enterprise in capitalism that historically has always generated an impoverished class or set of people in an uneven distribution of wealth. You did not respond to this point but circumvented it to talk about the obvious: the failure of the Soviet state.

Karl Marx:
Additionally, you did not respond to my inversion of Marx: of liberation from grinding poverty coming from innovations within society which capitalism is not logically necessary a causal factor of. Nor, did you comment on how a society can be proclaimed a 'liberator' which systematically imposes poverty onto working people. If you were familiar with Marxist theory, you would additionally note that the USSR and other such revolutionary enterprises were enacted under social conditions not conducive to his social system (which I agree is erroneous in many places). But, Marx believed that communism would develop from a mature and advanced capitalist society. And, indeed, the gradual cultural shift from capitalism to socialism in Western powers (exemplified through Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, for example) may validate historical materialism yet.

The underlying point however, is that I need to understand your viewpoint on material distribution in modern capitalist society in order to progress this debate. So, please prioritise this if you can please--
Debate Round No. 3


Per the rules of the debate (The last round being closing arguments, in which no new arguments may be presented), I am prohibited from stating new arguments. As I will not have the chance to respond any arguments my opponent makes in his last round, I ask that he abide the same restriction.

We have witnessed in this debate a spirited discussion of the merits of capitalism. I thank my opponent for accepting this daunting task. As it now comes to a close, let`s review the final status of the debate.

That which is key: The status of "the challenge": Con had a very simple obligation, and ample opportunity to respond to this challenge, not to mention a few reminders along the way. "That the only cases in which the masses have escaped the kind of grinding poverty that the overwhelming majority of people have been in since the dawn of time, which includes lack of access to clean water, lack of adequate nutrition, and so on so forth, have been when they have had capitalism and largely free trade." A single counterexample would have been sufficient. Yet across three rounds of debate, the example Con gave was Vietnam, which despite being a crucial point, he provided no source to allow further inquiry, precluding my evaluation of its validity as an example for his point. Likewise, he failed to see that my "acceptance" of Vietnam was quasi-sarcastic. Vietnam indeed is leaving poverty (yet remains in it), and has left only to the extent it has left the communist policies that had prevented it from riding the post-war economic boom and adopted market policies (Mind you, this is not a new argument, it was contained in my "Doi Moi" link).

Con proposed some sort of alternative definition of poverty which I again dismiss. If one does not have adequate nutrition, if one does not have clean water, if one does not have adequate shelter, one is poor. Relative poverty is simply not interesting to this debate, it is a moral argument that was dismissed in the opening of R1. I am not interested in the rich being poorer, I wish the poor to be richer than before without regard to the middle or upper classes.

Con has asserted that I did not address how wealth was distributed. I showed him that wages increased during the unrestricted "reign" of the "plutocrats". Per the rules I cannot present new data, but suffice it to say that his view that this growth in working man`s wages was unsustainable and destined to reverse in the 1930s is an absurd view, and requires an assumption that there were no major market corrections before the 1930s. In the entire course of this debate Con failed to produce also a single source substantiating any of his viewpoints. By the rules I cannot produce a source to show how Belgian wages increased from 1800 to 1900 in an enormous way, and so I invite the reader to do so. Fortunately for me, if Con`s assertion that the poor remained poor were true, he cited no source as is his custom. It begs the question why none of his key assertions came with sources.

The crux of the debate revolves around therefore this argument of Con`s that he asserts went without response.

"Liberation from grinding poverty coming from innovations within society which capitalism is not logically necessary a causal factor of."

I refer him to my counterpoint in R3

"With relation to the absolute necessity of capitalism to cause the Industrial Revolution, I submit that we will only ever have inductive means to reach such a conclusion, which I am attempting to use. It will forever be impossible to rule out all the myriad hypothetical economic systems as means of liberating the poor, and thus impossible to show that capitalism is a necessary condition. Good thing I did not do that. I only stated in the title that "Capitalism has been the exclusive liberator from grinding poverty" and in the challenge that "That the only cases in which the masses have escaped the kind of grinding poverty that the overwhelming majority of people have been in since the dawn of time, which includes lack of access to clean water, lack of adequate nutrition, and so on so forth, have been when they have had capitalism and largely free trade." I never proposed to prove more than this.

"All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice." (Karl Marx, Eighth Thesis, Theses on Feuerbach, 1845)

There are no shortage of unexplained questions that can get us off into the weeds of mystical idealism. I thank Marx for his unintentional candor. Ultimately, the rational solution comes in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice. As I`ve pointed out time and time again, no adequate substitute for capitalism has ever been found. None exists that has replicated its success in elevating the poor from their historical destitution to a position now exceeding the emperors of Rome, again, not in relative but absolute terms. The ruling of human practice when comprehended is that capitalism, in fact, has been "the exclusive liberator from grinding poverty."

Ladies and gentlemen, remember the challenge, remember the title. Con, while not admitting that capitalism was a necessary condition for the technological advances of the 19th century, admitted at several points that capitalism was a sufficient condition.

Here are several of his quotes:
"No one is denying capitalism as a source of social change and concrete improvement"
"Raising the question of Newcomen, leads precisely to this difficult question: was capitalism ancillary to his success, or could the steam engine have been devised in a socialist state? Of course, resources and capital were required to realise the steam engine: it didn't run on thin air. "

Con therefore assumed the obligation, having conceded that capitalism can be a liberator from absolute poverty (despite his other claims to the contrary based on capitalism`s supposed worsening of relative poverty, which I have always maintained as not being material to this discussion), to find any other economic system which has achieved what capitalism has in terms of taking the masses out of absolute poverty (again, defined by lack of access to adequate food, clean water, and adequate shelter, to say nothing of life`s amenities). Despite three rounds of debate, he produced no such substantiated example.

Having failed to meet the essential test, Con has attempted to change the debate, first by advocating a silly definiton of poverty, and second setting up the false dichotomy between social progress and capitalism which you may anticipate as being the main thrust of his closing argument. Really? Remember, "no one is denying capitalism as a source of social change and concrete improvement", so whether social change implements capitalism which then frees the poor or capitalism implements social change which then frees the poor or there is some sort of symbiosis between the two is immaterial. Any time "humanism", "social progress" or what have you has implemented communism, socialism or any substitute for capitalism on a national level, it has failed to achieve what capitalism has in terms of lifting the poor in absolute terms, despite all the preceding "humanist" development. Doctors cure diseases, but a doctor who administers a hamburger rather than an antidote will not cure poisoning.

Quoting Marx again,
"All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice."

Marx`s Razor from the Eighth Thesis on Feuerbach compels us to reject any previously attempted theory on the basis of its failure and accept the historical success of capitalism, thus confirming the resolution.


Well, considering that my opponent has opted-out of proper debate and instead constructed several straw man arguments in the final round, it falls to me to surmise:

My opponent defined poverty as the lack of capitalism, which for him somehow is synonymous is the lack of nutrition, water, and shelter (three things nearly all forms of society have produced regardless of their economic system, including tribal and agrarian societies). As such, when shown Vietnam's socialist model (post the capitalism bombardment of the country), he by some nebulous means calls it impoverished because it isn't capitalist. If so, then we would also have to call free-trade capitalist countries on the same economic level as Vietnam impoverished as well, placing socialism and capitalism on par. His accusation in R4 inflecting my own definition of poverty as inadequate is outstanding given that I didn't give one, but rather asked my opponent to in explicit concrete terms.

"Relative poverty is simply not interesting to this debate": it should be. If there were 10 poor people and 90 wealthy in a society, we might say that, that society is well off. If that society developed to the point were there were 1000 poor and 9000 wealthy, I should not think that it had been liberated from poverty. 'Liberator': I also took issue with the terminology of your proposition in this debate, given liberty suggests 1) more choice and 2) colonialist rhetoric, a society liberated when it has been converted into capitalism. Rising wages does not mean less poverty if all commodities proportionally go up in prices, perhaps to the extent that a large faction of that society can't purchase them. 'Exclusive': if poverty has been reduced by other social conditions and models, I hardly think this word is fitting.

The point about my lack of sources, is arbitrary given that I mentioned concrete data which he could have sourced for himself (just because I don't cite from the Encyclopedia pages on ducks, does not mean that they do not quack). My intention was much rather to debate, especially since I think my opponent has had formal education, and I would not of minded whatsoever if they broke out of their own self-restrained rules in order to get at a more interesting point. Of course, the "authoritative" sources my opponent provided to me, were merely the viewpoints of other writers, mentioning concrete data and phenomenon.

The Industrial Revolution... etc. etc. Yes, of course we were focusing on 'inductive means' (well d'oh: we're talking about the empirical world, not some abstract formula). You wanted explicit counter-examples, I know, but that doesn't mean that my counter-proposal: 'capitalism has been unnecessary from eliminating poverty in capitalist countries themselves' can be ignored. The point was thus: if those things could have happened in another economic system, then capitalism wasn't causally responsible for eliminating poverty and thereby your proposition false. You conflated society with capitalism, rather than seeing that society is bigger than its economic system.

Marx, of course is famous for inverting Hegel's mystical idealism into an historical materialism, and was not being unintentionally being candid there when he wrote that 'All social life is essentially practical'. He knew full well what he was saying. Isn't that the point of Feuerback? The power of man rather than the power of some strange external power (*coughs-capitalism-coughs*). Capitalism: you're failing again to see that there are different extents, types and modalities in it. As such, a radical, absolutely unrestrained liberalist capitalism (as you seem to be advocating) is not the same as say, today's capitalism, which has socialist protections and collective rather than just individualist intentions for the benefit of the majority, giving way to the pervasive force of privatisation post the fall of the Soviet Union....

Not to say that Hegel's dialectical movement is not useful: I think if we're being truly honest we'd attribute economic success to people using the system around them (the antithesis of Marx's idea), and the synthesis being that: what people create, gives them a wider potential to create more. From people making capitalism, capitalism can be developed and utilised more. And, perhaps capitalism is more successful at producing potential than other economic systems: this is what I meant by it being a source of social change. I think this is what you implicitly mean. This doesn't prove or help you motion as you've defined it though. False dichotomy, eh? No, I was thinking within the parameters of a synthesis.

The doctor might cure hunger though. Marx certainly won't, he dead. Feel free to message me / talk in the comments about this or topics like it at any time. As I said in R1, I was just focusing on one critique.
Debate Round No. 4
10 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by TheUnexaminedLife 2 years ago
Yeah, Marx agrees with you. People are dynamic groups, he says, and have been moving forward towards Hegelian liberty over time -- from empires, to feudalism, to capitalism-- and then what he predicts-- to socialism and communism, where there is greater social mobility. And, yes, Marx though that philosophy should change the world and not just describe it. He didn't think the bourgeoisie were a static group, like the indolent rich of old.

And I disagree with him on many things: but, you can't understand modern social theory without him, many positions (the Frankfurt school, etc.) reacting to him and the parameters he sets out in his text. Doesn't mean we should instantly dismiss him as 'dogma', but take his criticisms and rational thought, see what premises we disagree with, and react to that.
Posted by Surgeon 2 years ago

I think you are being too charitable to Marx and over-reaching yourself.

Marxism fails in theory and practice. As a science it led Marx himself to make predictions about which states would overturn Capitalism for Socialism (some form thereof), which proved to be wrong. As an economic system it spectacularly failed in practice never overcoming the incentive, information and price problems. As a political system it always led to slave states, imprisonment and death on a monumental scale. The 'angels' who founded the states gave way to the demons who lurked in the shadows and always came afterwards (documented brilliantly by Hayek in 'the road to serfdom'. And seen yet again in our time as Venezuela follows exactly this pattern.

This is why the Marxist narrative changed in the 60s away from the class struggle, to identify different societal groupings and claim victimhood status for blacks, women, or other minorities. The post modernist mess that has followed has given us the joys of the illiberal cultural marxists, SJWs, antifa (ironic given they are as fascist as they come).

Marx was not a commentator nor passive on the subject. He advocated for change not just an understanding, through his rather sentimental and simplistic perspectives.

The point about Capitalism is that it is not the same as Feudalism. Under the latter there is no social mobility: once a slave always a slave. Under Capitalism you have the right to keep the fruits of your labour, move through the social classes, set up your kids to start off their life more advantaged. The bourgeois class Marx refers to, is not a static group of people who control others, but a dynamically changing group of people moving in and out of it all the time (sometimes within a generation). Same for the proletariat. Under socialism and welfare programmes, that dynamism is lost and people and families fossilize in a cycle of poverty as everyone is leveled down to the LCD.
Posted by TheUnexaminedLife 2 years ago
You can take Marx's criticisms of capitalism without having to subscribe to his positive theory, which is that letting the market control society unrestrained A) can lead to the constitution of a poor class whilst a minority plutocracy thrives and that B) making a society the subject of its economic system which means that it is incredibly volatile and not open to fair and distributed social representation of all citizens.
Marx again, doesn't write dogma but arguments with premises and conclusions that you can disagree with IF YOU ENGAGE WITH THEM DIRECTLY (which you did not).

The point most interesting point about my opponent's claim would be the proposition that a universal bourgeois class has been constituted by capitalism, raising (whatever he defines wealth as) for the individual citizen above the feudal level. This I think can by tackled by my argument against Marx.
Posted by Surgeon 2 years ago

That is a fact-free comment. There is a direct relationship between the index of economic freedom (in effect the degree to which laissez faire capitalism exists) and to the Wealth per capita. The index and numbers are freely available from the various economic bodies.

The countries with the highest economic freedom have marginal personal tax rates at the highest end from 0 - 33% with most between 15 - 20%. As the motion states it is Capitalism that liberates the poor. Marxist dogma requiring punitive excessive 'progressive' taxation of 50% (or more) has failed wherever implemented to benefit the poor or to maximize tax revenues as wealth is moved overseas to protect assets. If you want to be poor just move to a socialist country or one that discourages ROCE by punitive tax rates. If you do not want to be poor, maximize your education, don't have kids early, work hard and work in a country where there is minimal government intervention in the economy and one that doesn't steal large proportions of your income. This is the lesson of history.
Posted by TheUnexaminedLife 2 years ago
My apologises for ignoring parts of 'the challenge' but I would prefer to get straight into the dialogue and debate, rather than talk past each other in non-discursive argumentation.
Posted by DrCereal 2 years ago
I considered taking up this argument, but I have decided that it would not be a wise choice. Not because of a lack of confidence that the resolution is not true, but a lack of confidence in my ability to do thorough and satisfactory research. It is up to someone else to challenge your bold resolve.

Sorry to disappoint.
Posted by JohnSmythe 2 years ago
Feel welcome to take me up on it, Dr. Cereal.
Posted by DrCereal 2 years ago
What an amusing resolve.
Posted by canis 2 years ago
Yes it has...But only in "systems" whith about 50 % taxes..
Posted by Surgeon 2 years ago
I agree John. Good luck with your debate, I shall monitor it with interest.
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