Andrew sez, in response to my last post:
this is like, way too breezy of an analysis to do anything like draw conclusions about ‘moral categories’ in general. at best it applies to the mainstream moral DISCOURSE in the US. have you read anything by Amartya Sen? moreover, if ‘exploitation’ is indeed a moral category (despite Marx’s insistence to the contrary), then it perfectly cuts across cultural boundaries in exactly the way you say ‘class’ does.
Andrew why do you always put your pronouncements in these silly unrespondible comment boxes? It’s like a drive by! Anyways, I’ve read Amartya Sen’s ‘Development as Freedom’ but I forget almost everything about. And yes ANDREW ITS BREEZY it’s a tumblr post responding to a discussion on twitter that was making no sense. People have written entire books about this stuff, I’m just a dude who reads them and tries to pump out responses to particular objections in 5 minutes because all I’ve been doing is reading books about this for 9 years straight.
Also maybe I’m taken in to Marx’s conception of exploitation too much but I haven’t seen anything that suggests its moral and I can’t really grasp exactly what you’re getting at, that it could cut across cultures. Moral categories always cut across cultures - but I don’t think they are useful as descriptions of actually existing reality, especially if we are doing political economy. I think our morals have a roll to play in rhetoric and knowing where we want to go - saying that people shouldn’t live in poverty is a moral pronouncement. But the title of the post isn’t “against moral categories” but “the limit of moral categories”.
Again, to come back to the question of the moral category “middle class” is that it doesn’t describe anything other than purchasing power, which I don’t think is useful to something like Marxist political economy, where the axis of exploitation is in the workplace, and not in what shoes or cars I can buy.
Sen’s conception of welfare is tied to basic capabilities: this frees it from the limits you rightly accuse categories like “middle class” of possessing: vagueness, cultural specificity, limiting description to purchasing power. For Sen, it doesn’t matter how much money exactly it takes to get you out of poverty, just rather the limits poverty places on your ability to realize your own personal goals, how poverty interferes with your relationships, as well as the ways in which living in poverty negatively impacts more baseline things like your health. It also is completely neutral with respect to where these negative impacts are taking place: in the home, the workplace, or the community at large.
If you want something like a moral category that’s actually amenable to serious analysis, I suggest looking at the use of metrics like QALYs and DALYs in public health. This is something a lot more like a description of actually existing reality: from them we can conclude things like “the presence of the factory in this neighborhood is causing a mean reduction of 3 DALYs in the people who live around it.” From that, we can come to even more general conclusions like the relative risks posed to people by pollution versus other types of disease, etc. It also, naturally, informs where we want to go- but in a way that is much more specific (and unifying of theory and practice) than terms like “middle class.”