[OPE-L:4760] (Fwd) On "capital scarcity" (reply to Andrew B.)

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Thu Jan 11 2001 - 04:21:11 EST

Gil's message to the list is forwarded below (it only made it to me 
on first attempt - I'm afraid the 'reply' email option doesn't reply to 
the list for my emails).

------- Forwarded message follows -------
Date sent:      	Wed, 10 Jan 2001 18:16:49 -0500
To:             	Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk
From:           	Gil Skillman <gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu>
Subject:        	On "capital scarcity" (reply to Andrew B.)

Andrew B. writes:

>'Scaricity' is certainly the wrong term. Probably 'capital' too.

I recognize that "capital scarcity" does not have very Marxian overtones,
but it has the advantage of briefly capsulizing conditions that Marx
affirmed in V. I as necessary for the existence of surplus value.  To
anticipate, Marx argues that differential class control of the means of
production in the sense described by Andrew below is necessary for capital
to be non-abundant in the sense Andrew suggests. In other work I preempt
objections of the sort you raise, Andrew, by invoking the slightly more
informative but unwieldy term "differential ownership of scarce productive
assets" (DOSPA).  I'm happy to entertain emendations on either phrase.

>What is necessary is that the means of production not in the 
>contol of one class, such that the class is forced to do wage labour 
>(also necessary is that this class *possesses* their labour-power 
>such that they can sell it). This has nothing to do with 'scarcity' of 
>the means of production, these means could be abundant (and are 
>now, in fact) - it's just that they are not in control of a class (this is 
>what Julian is getting at I think).

Three comments:  first, according to Marx's argument in V. I, Ch. 33,
differential class ownership does indeed have *something* to do with
capital "scarcity" in the sense of non-abundance, since Marx says that
propertied workers would accumulate to the degree necessary to eliminate
their dependence on external capital:

"So long, therefore, as the worker can accumulate for himself--and this he
can do so long as he remains in possession of his means of
production--capitalist accumulation and the capitalist mode of production
are impossible." [p. 933 Penguin]

Second, even if we distinguish differential class ownership as a
determining factor of exploitation--and I agree with Andrew that this is
appropriate--it remains the case that productive wealth has to be *scarce*
in the sense I've defined it *as well as* unequally owned, since otherwise
excessive accumulation would drive the rate of surplus value to zero.
Thus, in the sense required for the argument, the means of production are
not in fact "abundant" now, since (for example) the interest rate on
corporate bonds is not zero.

Third, I think there is a non sequitur in Andrew's characterization.
Differential class ownership of the means of production, in the sense
invoked by Marx in Ch. 6 of Vol. I, does not of itself imply that the
unpropertied class is "forced to do wage labour", since they could
alternatively gain access to the means of production by financing the
purchase of means of production or leasing constant capital goods.  An
additional argument, found nowhere in Vol. I, Part 2, and having nothing to
do with the value-theoretic considerations Marx addresses there, is
required to derive the condition of wage labour from the fact of a class
"free in the double sense."  This is part of the point of my Ch. 5 critique.  

>Gil, how do you define 'capital'? Not by 'means of production' I 
>hope. Capital is self-expanding value taking the form once of 
>money once of commodities. 

I define capital pretty much as you do, Andrew, following Marx.  Marx of
course defines capital as a "social relation between persons which is
mediated through things."  This relation is reflected in the differential
roles played by money and commodities in the circuit of capital M--C--M' as
opposed to the circuit of commodity exchange C--M--C.  But as a shorthand,
Marx also refers to the money and/or commodities taking part in this social
relation as "capital", as seen in his terms *constant and variable
capital.*  But since they only take on this connotation within the social
relation that yields surplus value, "capital" is certainly not simply
"means of production."  Subsistence peasants have means of production but
no "capital," for example.

One attribute of constant capital is that, in its "real" or commodity
manifestation, it represents a portion of current-period product that is
not used for final consumption in that period.  This portion of
current-period product is the magnitude that might or might not be "scarce"
in the sense I defined it in an earlier post.  Suppose, for example, that
workers consume all of their income and capitalists use all of theirs for
accumulation, and that the implied rate of capital accumulation is not so
large as to yield a zero rate of surplus value.  Then in my sense of the
phrase, capital is scarce.  

>There is never 'enough' capital 
>because it is measured by a *quantity* with no limit. One can always make

Well, yes, *eventually*, but that doesn't impinge on the possibility of
current-period scarcity in the sense I've described above.  This relates to
what I consider one of Marx's key theoretical contributions:  showing how,
despite the possibility, nay the systemic necessity, of capital
accumulation, and without the Malthusian adjustment invoked by Ricardo and
(in weaker form by) Smith, capital might persistently remain scarce in the
sense defined.


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