[OPE-L:4766] (Fwd) Re: Re: On "capital scarcity" (reply to And

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Fri Jan 12 2001 - 13:32:44 EST

Gil's post just made it to me again, so I have forwarded it on, below.

(Sorry, Gil, but if you just hit the reply button, the post won't get to 
the list).

------- Forwarded message follows -------
Date sent:      	Fri, 12 Jan 2001 13:29:08 -0500
To:             	Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk
From:           	Gil Skillman <gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu>
Subject:        	Re: [OPE-L:4761] Re: On "capital scarcity" (reply to Andrew B.)

Andrew, your post 4761 addresses two key issues, concerning the respective
meanings of "capital scarcity" and "control of production."  Since both of
these issues are central to my Ch. 5 critique, I'd like to look at them
more closely.  Fast forwarding through your post a bit, we come to this
passage from me,

>> 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]

to which you respond:

>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.

But I *did* qualify the term, for present purposes: scarcity in this
context means relative to capitalists' desire in a given period to
accumulate further, based on the expectation of a positive expected return
to their investments.  I'm arguing that scarcity in this specific sense is
necessary for the existence of capitalist exploitation, in a sense parallel
to that affirmed by Marx in the above passage.


Then where I write
>> 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.

you respond

>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.

Perhaps, but I'm arguing for a more precise definition of the term in which
capital, understood as a portion of the current product not devoted to
final consumption, must necessarily be scarce in order for capitalists to
realize a positive rate of surplus value.

> 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. 

That's true, over the long haul.  But I'm not talking about the long haul:
I'm talking about the scope for positive returns on accumulation in a given
period, and there, it is certainly plausible that capitalists might come to
a point at which they cannot expect a positive rate of return from
additional investment, either because there are no available workers, or
the wage has been bid up by capitalist demand to a point that prohibits
profitability (the possibility considered at length by Marx in Ch. 25 of V.
I), or marginal investment projects are simply not commercial, or some
combination of these three considerations.

>There are periodic 
>crises described as overaccumulation - maybe your point has 
>something to do with this?

Yes, something to do with it, but to call every case in which there is not
current-period scarcity is to put the matter too strongly.  That is:
suppose there is an inverse relationship between the level of aggregate
accumulation in a given period and the expected return on marginal
accumulation (this could be true for any combination of the factors
considered just above).  Suppose further that all investment comes out of
profits, and capitalists must decide in any given period how much of their
realized profit to reinvest.  One possibility is that, even after they've
invested all of their available profits, the expected rate of return on
additional investment is still positive.  Obviously this is a case of
capital scarcity, and it is the case that Marx argues as typical in Ch. 25.

The polar opposite possibility is that capitalists cannot realize a
positive rate of return on *any* level of additional accumulation in the
current period, perhaps because of strong accumulation rates in previous
periods.  This is the case most likely to earn the description of "crisis".'

But there's also a broad range of intermediate possibilities, in which
capitalists earn a positive rates of return for successive investments out
of profits, up to some point of zero marginal return that is reached before
capitalists have invested all of their profits.  It would be hard to insist
that this situation is one of "crisis", since capitalists may reasonably
expect to earn very handsome rates of return on their inframarginal
investment, and then still have some profit left over to spend on high living.

Thus, although it's possible to imagine that the absence of capital
scarcity corresponds to a crisis of overaccumulation--scenario 2 above--it
is not by any means a necessary correspondence.

Finally, in response to this passage from me,
>> 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 

you write:

> *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.

I don't see how this follows.  Suppose that the reason that *capitalists*
are willing to loan finance capital or lease constant capital goods is that
they can contractually stipulate *all* of the conditions that they would
otherwise ensure through direct oversight of production--hours of work,
level of intensity, allocation of tasks, and techniques used-- and suppose
these contractual terms are enforceable by the legal system.  Since the
terms of the employment relationship are exactly the same in both cases, in
what sense do workers "control" the means of production in the case of
leases or loans, but not under capitalist production?

Thus, I don't see that the existence of capital leasing or financing
arrangements categorically implies "effective worker control" of the means
of production.  To justify your claim, you would have to make "additional
arguments" of the sort I was referring to in my original passage above.

A plausible response to the foregoing is that capitalists can't typically
presume such effective contracting arrangements in real-world capital
markets.  I would answer that if Marx had based his V.I, Part 2 analysis of
markets for labor power on these considerations, rather than the invalidly
derived postulate of price-vale proportionality, then much of my critique
would have been obviated.  But the point is that he doesn't even hint at
these necessarily relevant considerations in his analysis in V.I Part
2--although he does address some of these issues in other work that he
wasn't able to edit for publication, beginning with the Grundrisse.

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