Robert Anton Wilson on the source of wealth


Robert Anton Wilson

A quote from a book which is, for once, not about economics. The book that is, not the quote! Prometheus Rising is an eclectic look at how the human mind works and is both entertaining and enlightening.

“Where does this wealth come from? According to orthodox economics it comes from land, labor and capital. According to Marxists, it comes from land and labor alone, and the capitalist is a thief who has inserted an artificial book-keeping system into the process. Both are wrong. Land and labor alone, and land, labor and capital together, can’t produce new wealth if they are all organised by a fallacious idea, such as searching for oil where oil is not. The real source of wealth is correct ideas: workable ideas: that is, negative entropy – Information.

The origin of these coherent (workable) ideas is the human nervous system. All wealth is created by human beings using their neurons intelligently.

Robert Anton Wilson (1983), Prometheus Rising

I have plenty of time for Marxist thought, not so much for socialism. But the labour theory of value (LTV) is, for me, perhaps not as scientific as Marx and many Marxists make out. The above quote sums it up nicely, suggesting that the LTV is misleading or at best incomplete, and designed to make social injustice and exploitation into something scientific.

If one wishes to fight injustice, including exploitation, that is all to the good. However I am not convinced that surplus value, a key concept in classical political economy and Marx, necessarily originates solely in the efforts of the workers. Management by the capitalists or their representatives is probably necessary for a productive and profitable workplace and can take many forms, coercive or otherwise.

To draw once more on the quote above: in the right political, social and economic environment, capitalists and workers, sometimes in conflict, sometimes cooperating, can be collectively productive if they work (and use their neurons) intelligently.


2 thoughts on “Robert Anton Wilson on the source of wealth

  1. A capitalist by definition doesn’t work and isn’t productive – wealth isn’t created by the stockholder as such, but by the worker either by brain or brawn. Which doesn’t mean that no entrepeneurs are wealth creators. They are, in so far as they also perform labour – most capitalists don’t. Mostly they inherit proprety and, as Marx said, put money to work.
    But why do you oppose Socialism?

    • Thanks for your comment. I base my opposition to socialism based on its historical record: its failure to advance material prosperity in the race with capitalist-based economies and societies, as well as socialist states’ often brutal oppression of ordinary people and murder on a large scale. Of course, capitalism is often unjust, brutal and exploitative, but it is perhaps the lesser of two evils. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: “capitalism is the worst form of economic system, apart from the others which have been tried from time to time.”

      I agree with your point about entrepreneurs, and if they are defined as performing labour, then that would make me more sympathetic to the labour theory of value and the source of surplus value as coming from labour time alone.

      Perhaps it is what Marx referred to as an ‘alien’ power or force which capitalism produces that forces both capitalists and workers to behave as they do, so that individuals have less choice in their actions in society than at first appears.

      We could get into an argument about definitions of classes, but this then draws us into semantics, rather than economics or political economy.

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