[OPE-L:4761] Re: On "capital scarcity" (reply to Andrew B.)

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Thu Jan 11 2001 - 04:50:07 EST

re 4760

> 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.

Just trying clarify your argument, Gil; don't care about 'Marxian overtones'!

 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.

I'm happy with Marx's terminology: must indicate we disagree 
about something. I wonder what?

> 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]

Maybe Paul C. has it right, 'scarce in relation to what?'. But I define 
as follows: 'Scarce', without qualification, means scarce in relation 
to need. After that, it means scarce in relation to want. That is 
*society wide* need and want. This is certainly a very germane and 
important definition. Eg. only in capitalism does 'scarcity', so 
defined, cease to exist, as regards 'need'. There is enough to go 
round the whole world. There never used to be. 

> 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.

Hmm. Maybe you can explain further, but on my defintion, the 
means of production do not have to be scarce, in relation to need, 
at least. Capitalists, qua capitlaists, will always *want* more 
capital - accumulation is potentially limitless, there is no drive to 
zero SV, more SV creates more surplus value, creates more nees 
creates more want. There is no saturation point. There are periodic 
crises described as overaccumulation - maybe your point has 
something to do with this?

> 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.  

 *If* the workers could lease, or finance purchase means of 
production then they would effectively control them. My definition 
uses the term control. So no non sequitur.

Re the stuff below: I'm pleased and not surprised, to see your 
definitions closely follow Marx. But I am way off grapsing your 
points re SV and accumulation. Accumulation does not lead to 
zero SV as you suggest, as far as I can tell. Still, maybe the most 
germane points about 'scarcity' have been made above.

Many thanks,


> >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
> more.
> 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.
> Gil

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