[OPE-L:2789] consumption and accumulation

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Sun Apr 09 2000 - 09:20:30 EDT

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Re John E's [OPE-L:2788]:

> It seems to me that M-C-M' is the opposite of the idea that
> consumption is the purpose of production. That is, if
> the particular capitalist cuts down on consumption, his
> profits will grow faster. On the macro level, the idea
> is to create an economy in which only Dept. I exists.

Hi John:
If what you are saying, is that a decrease in unproductive consumption
leads to an increase in the quantity of money-capital available for
accumulation ceteras paribus, then we agree. This process is perhaps best
captured by Marx's assertion about capitalists as "personifications of
capital" who wear "character-masks".

Yet, there are important qualifications to the above. Even though the
process of capitalist competition causes capitalists to decrease the rate
of the money-capital that they use for the purposes of individual
consumption, it nonetheless remains a significant factor on the micro and
macro levels. "Conspicuous consumption" (Veblen) posits a very different
idea than Marx's -- even though I think the two are compatible once the
*assumption* that capitalists wear "character masks" is dropped. I will
only say what should be obvious: i.e. that capitalists seek to both
increase accumulation and increase personal consumption (hence the
"Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous") even though the two goals come into
conflict with one another.

As for the possibility of Dept 1 production only:

a) this represents what you go on to call a "dream" ("Didn't Tugan dream
of an accumulation process without workers?"). Indeed, capitalists dream
about production without any costs. Nonetheless, they realize that this is
an unattainable fantasy since workers don't "live on air" and the elements
of fixed and circulating capital can't be obtained for free. Despite this
fantasy, capitalists are fundamentally pragmatic and realize that there is
surplus value and profit to be made in the production and sale of
Department 2 commodities.

b) capitalists have their dreams and so do workers. The desire for
increasing income to satisfy *expanding* needs by workers is a tendency
which works in the opposite direction. Of course, both dreams are only
attainable to a limited degree under capitalism, yet nonetheless this
expression of subjectivity on the part of the two major classes has a
profound effect on the direction of the class struggle.

c) because capitalists know that in fact there is some unproductive
consumption of capital for the purposes of individual consumption by the
ruling class, some proportion of capitalists specialize in the production
of commodities destined to be consumed by families in the capitalist
class. Indeed, there are many "branches of production" which specialize in
this activity and it has importance where we consider regional development
and international specialization.

d) one of the reasons capitalists fight to preserve their power is
precisely because they wish to maintain these patterns of capitalist
consumption. Of course, other factors, e.g. control-related factors in
addition to ownership-related factors, have important significance as

e) this subject of consumption is well worth addressing at greater length.
Indeed, Ben Fine has published 2 books in recent years which address
this subject. Have others on this list attempted any empirical
investigations into patterns of consumption?

In solidarity, Jerry

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