Last week, someone commented on one of my Facebook posts with a link to a Facebook video from April with the title, “Ben Shapiro OBLITERATES Student’s Socialism Arguments”. The caption goes on to say, “Ben Shapiro stops a socialist right in his tracks.” Well, okay, maybe “goes on to say” isn’t the right choice of words since the caption is just repeating the title.
The person who linked to this video described it as the “best argument I’ve heard against communism and socialism”.
So, I watched it. And I was kind of surprised that he gave it that much credit. If this was the best argument against communism and socialism he’s ever heard, then he must have seen some pretty bad ones.
I responded by saying it was a horrible argument against socialism (it doesn’t even address communism), and when he asked how, I figured that since there was too much for a Facebook comment, I’d do a response video.
So, here we are.
I’m going to go through what Ben Shapiro is saying in his arguments, exposing their illogical nature. Hopefully, by the end of my video, you’ll see why this video isn’t the best argument against socialism, why Ben didn’t obliterate this student’s arguments, and why Ben also didn’t stop the student in his tracks.
Before I get into it, why don’t you watch it for yourself.
There. Now that you’ve had a chance to watch it, we’re both on the same page. Let’s get into my response.
Let’s say you own a pencil factory. I’m a worker in that pencil factory. You can have all the machinery. You can buy all the raw materials you want, but without me—and presumably many others like me—to assemble the pencils, all you would have is a pile of wood, yellow paint, graphite, rubber, and aluminum. Okay. And that is worth less than the pencil when you try and sell it, and yet all of that value added by labour—apart from the wages that you give me, which if we’re being honest, there is a major power imbalance in our ability to negotiate that—
If all that putting the pencil together requires is basic use of your prefrontal cortex, then yes your labour is alienable at lower rates than if you are a doctor. That’s not the fault of the person who owns the machinery.
Right from the start, Ben comes out with a strawman. This student didn’t say anything about how much one’s labour is worth compared to a doctor’s. Ben either misinterpreted the student’s points or purposefully reframed them to fit into a point he knew he could argue. Then he attacked that reframed/misinterpreted point.
Even so, the skill level of the labour performed is irrelevant. The point the student is leading up to (which we’ll see later in the video after he patiently endures Ben’s interruptions) is that the business owner sells the pencil for more than it costs to produce it then pockets any difference (profit). It doesn’t matter if the worker is a mechanical engineer with a PhD who designs the pencil or the line worker without a highschool diploma who assembles the pencil; the business owner extracts a certain value from their labour and reimburses them for only a portion of that labour.
But if you didn’t have workers like me in your pencil factory and you were just one man—
But I do. I have millions of people who are willing to do that voluntarily for me.
Ben entirely misses the point. The student was talking about not having any workers, then Ben talks about having millions of potential workers. The student wasn’t arguing that non one’s willing to work for you, so it’s a meaningless counterargument.
That being said, it’s not really volunteering to work for pay if society dictates that you must feed, clothe, and house yourself using money.
If you’re just one person trying to assemble pencils, you’re not going to get very far. You need workers; capital needs labour infinitely more than labour needs capital. That’s why you have worker cooperatives, where the workers are the ones—
I fundamentally disagree on the distinction between capital and labour. Capital is just a term for money. If you’re talking about money, money does not grow from the ground. Money only has value because it was traded for labour at one point or the products of labour,
True. But it’s not a 1-for-1 trade. Taking the pencil example, let’s say a carton of pencils from your factory sells for $20. Now you, as the business owner, have $20. And while it’s true that the product was produced by labour—so technically, the $20 represents labour—the worker who performed that labour won’t see that $20. Maybe the worker gets $10, you use $5 to cover other overhead costs, and you keep the remaining $5. That $5 that you now have in your pocket does, indeed, represent labour; however, it doesn’t represent your labour. You didn’t perform a quarter of the labour that went into producing that carton of pencils.
So if i take my money, and I buy machinery, I have invested my labour in doing that because I didn’t get the money from nowhere.
Well, that’s just it. Did you, as a business owner, use only money generated by your own labour to buy that machinery? You didn’t use any of the profit generated by the labor of your workers? Even if you’re just starting out and have no workers yet, you paid for that machinery with money you saved up on your own from your own labour? No financing? No money borrowed from your parents?
Even if I got it from my parents, my parents didn’t get the money from nowhere.
Same thing. While your parents, of course, didn’t get money from nowhere, it doesn’t mean the money they gave you was generated by only their labour.
The people who built the machines required me to trade something of value to them in order for me to obtain the machines.
Well, that’s the thing. Are the people you’re buying the machines from also the same people who built the machines, or are they, like you, company owners, who are selling you machines at a higher price than what they’re paying their workers to build that machine? Because if they’re the latter and you used money generated by your workers’ labour to buy a machine generated by their worker’s labour, the machine company owners now have money that represents an exchange of labour between people, neither of whom actually paid for the labour represented by the money.
The people who invented the machines required people to pay them in order to get the patent to that machine, so they could build the machine.
Sure. Although there’s far more than the cost of a patent that goes into building a machine.
The problem that I’m seeing in what you’re saying is you have still failed.
No, the failure is that you don’t seem to understand what he’s arguing. You just keep building up strawmen to knock down.
If what you’re talking about is a system of volunteerism, you still have not named any area in which we disagree.
Just a reminder that a few second ago, Ben literally said that he “fundamentally disagrees” on the distinction between capital and labour, so it’s kind of weird to say that the student hasn’t names any area where they disagree.
And you’re telling me that you’re a socialist and i’m a free marketer, so one of us got this wildly wrong and i’m pretty sure it’s not me.
Except it is you. Because he never calls you a free marketer or himself a socialist. Even if he was, I don’t understand how this is at all relevant to his point that capital needs labour infinitely more than labour needs capital.
It’s just a red herring to get applause from the audience so that they convince themselves that you know what you’re talking about and think that you’re winning.
The differentiation I draw and I’m not alone in this. I’m not one person trying to redefine anything. The differentiation I— and many others like me—draw between socialism and capitalism is that under capitalism, when you, as the owner of the factory, you give me a wage—the wage could be $7.25, it could be $15, it could be whatever an hour. Right. Right? But you you give me a wage, all the additional profit above—made from selling the pencils or whatever good you produce—above what is reinvested into the company ultimately goes to you or the investors, those who own shares in the means of production. Right. Under socialism, those people are the workers, and the example I give, again, is cooperative enterprise—
No, those are the people who are investing the risk
I don’t understand this response. The student says, “you or the investors, those who own shares and the means of production”, but you respond with “No, those are the people who are investing the risk”. So the people investing in the company—and you as the business owner—aren’t the ones who own shares and the means of production?
I honestly wonder sometimes—okay, maybe most of the time—whether Ben actually hears what people are saying when he’s “debating” them.
So if they carry the risk, then they get the benefit. The owner of the factory carries the risk; therefore, he gets the benefit.
But does he carry the risk? Is he a sole proprietor running a pencil factory, or did he incorporate his business? If the latter, then liability is limited to assets held within the company. The bank can’t come after your home, for example, if your incorporated company can’t pay its financing back. If you’re running a business where millions of potential workers want to work for you as a sole proprietorship, you’re being stupid and shouldn’t be running a business.
The workers in the company you mentioned, if that company were to go bankrupt, they would carry the risk as well as the benefit. If the company goes bankrupt and this guy has to pay off all of his debts, the worker may lose his job, but he’s not the one who’s going to incur the debt of having gone bankrupt.
Except the company owner likely doesn’t personally incur the debt either: the corporation does. If the company goes bankrupt, “this guy” doesn’t have to pay off all his debts; they’re not his to begin with: they’re the corporation’s debts. The only thing the owner risks is his initial investment.
On the other hand, the workers, as you point out, lose their job if the company goes bankrupt. Heck, it doesn’t even have to involve bankruptcy. As someone who has been laid off 3 times, I assure you that employees carry more risk than what goes with bankruptcy.
If you incur risk, then you’re the one who pays the downside; the worker does not pay the downside, okay?
Except you just agreed that workers do incur risk, so they must pay the downside. And since the business owner is protected by the limited liability of incorporation, then there shouldn’t be a downside for them to pay.
It is the investor who pays the downside, who invested in all the machinery, who sunk millions of dollars into making your labour productive because guess what?
Again, the investor doesn’t pay a downside beyond recouping their investment. And that millions of dollars? Unless that’s financing from a lending institution—which would need to be paid back as an expense, before calculating profit—then these millions of dollars wouldn’t even be his to begin with. Remember how we established earlier that profit represents the unpaid labour of the workers who generated the revenue? If you have millions of expendable income to invest into machinery, it wasn’t generated from your own labour. Not only are you placing virtually all the risk of your company’s viability onto your workers, but you’re using the unpaid labour of past workers to finance that risk. If the company goes bankrupt, your current workers lose their jobs, and all you lose is the unpaid labour of your past workers, which doesn’t even belong to you anyhow.
Your labour is—without that machinery—gunk, nothing.
That’s just not true. You don’t need a machine to make pencils. A machine doesn’t enable you to make pencils; it enables you to produce more pencils in the same amount of time. But the fact that you, as a worker, can still produce pencils without machinery means that your labour does, indeed, have value.
You don’t have a pencil to put together. You don’t got the wood, you don’t got the paint, you don’t got the rubber, you don’t got the metal. You got nothing, right?
This makes no sense. Why do you need machinery in order to have the raw materials for making pencils? There’s nothing stopping the business owner from buying the raw materials if he doesn’t have machinery.
You’re sitting there, standing outside ,twiddling your thumbs. It requires somebody to invest.
But see, this is the point you missed out on when you interrupted the student. The point he was in the middle of making was that under socialism—specifically in the case of worker cooperatives—the investors are the workers. They collectively own the means of production. They collectively purchase the equipment. They collectively invest into the company. They collectively carry all the risk. So, just because there isn’t a single business owner doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone to invest. It doesn’t mean that the only option is for workers to be outside twiddling their thumbs.
Who do you think put more in? The guy who spent millions of dollars buying all the machinery, leasing the place, making sure there was a management structure, doing the LLC formation, making sure all the tax code was in compliance, or you, standing outside because you can stick a piece of graphite into a piece of wood?
Most definitely the workers. Because without their labour, there is no way you could, as a business owner, generate enough revenue to recoup the millions of dollars you invested into your machines. Without the workers being willing to risk being laid off, or fired, or losing their job because of bankruptcy, you wouldn’t be able to mitigate the risk of losing your investment. Which is the point this student was making.
This is the problem with every argument I have ever seen Ben Shapiro make. He misinterprets what the speaker is saying, builds up straw men around keywords he hears, destroys the straw men, all the while doing it as quickly as possible so none of his audience realize that he’s just speaking nonsense, and then sits back with a grin on his face to the thunderous applause of ignorance.
Ben Shapiro sounds smart to people who don’t understand what he’s doing. But if you take the time to really look at what he’s saying, you quickly realize that he has no idea what he’s saying.
And that he’s never actually obliterated anyone’s arguments.