[OPE-L:4767] Re: Re: On "capital scarcity" (reply to Paul C.)

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@MAIL.WESLEYAN.EDU)
Date: Fri Jan 12 2001 - 17:12:56 EST

Extending this exchange, 

>> >Scarcity is unproblematised. Scarce relative to what?
>> Relative to capitalists' desire for current-period accumulation.  Example:
>> suppose for simplicity that all capitalists are industrial capitalists,
>> workers consume all their income, capitalists use all of their profits to
>> accumulate.  If, at the resulting rate of accumulation, additional
>> investment would yield a strictly positive expected rate of return, then
>> capital is scarce in the sense I've defined it.  

Paul writes
>Here you are arguing at a very concrete level and one can draw
>no real conclusions without taking into account a mass of other
>factors relating to the current rate of surplus value, the material form
>in which the capital was invested - does it cheapen the wage bundle
>and contribute to relative surplus value, is the legal framework amenable
>to trades unions using the period of accelerated accumulation to bid
>up wages, etc.

All of the factors you mention inform the condition I've called capital
scarcity in one way or another, without at all contradicting or
invalidating it.  For example, the tendency to create relative surplus
value means that a given rate of capital accumulation is associated with a
slower rise in the demand for labor, other things equal, implying less
upward pressure on wages and thus more scope for capital scarcity.  The
status (legal and otherwise) of trade unions addresses the same issue.  I
don't deny that for some purposes it is appropriate, perhaps even
necessary, to study the historically specific constellation of factors that
support a condition of capital scarcity, but I don't see the grounds for
your categorical claim that "one can draw no real conclusions" from
studying the forest rather than all the individual trees.  

Relative to this discussion, in fact, I've already suggested a number of
"real" implications of the condition of capital scarcity:  first, it
generically corresponds to a condition of price-value *disparity*, other
things equal, indicating that Marx's use of price-value proportionality as
the base case for analyzing the existence of surplus value is essentially
misleading.  None of the factors you invoke above challenge this inference.
 Second, there is a substantive issue as to whether capital scarcity, so
defined, is also a *sufficient* condition for the existence of surplus
value.  Marx says, in effect, that it is a sufficient condition (that is,
neither formal nor real subsumption of labor is required) for surplus value
under the class conditions preceding the advent of the capitalist mode of
production, but not thereafter.  It is impossible to explain why this might
be so on the basis of the considerations Marx introduces in Vol. I, Part
2--that's part of the point of my critique--although he gives relevant (but
incomplete) grounds for this inference in other parts of his work. None of
the complicating factors you suggest above preclude posing and analyzing
this issue in a meaningful way.

Third, if it is accurate to say that Marx identifies the existence of a
class of propertyless workers as a necessary condition for capital scarcity
(and this issue is still being pursued here and in the parallel discussion
with John E.), then a valid logical inference is that appropriate
redistribution would be sufficient to eliminate capital scarcity and thus
capitalist exploitation (even if it doesn't eliminate other unpleasant
aspects of capitalist competition), which is surely a "real" issue.  Again,
none of the complicating factors you mention above obviously challenge the
validity of this inference.

To put the whole matter another way, I think that "capital scarcity" as
I've defined it is an analytically useful construct at a certain level of
abstraction, and I don't see the basis for your categorical dismissal of
this possibility.  

>These are all highly contingent factors and it seems inadequate to define
>a precondition of capitalism - capital scarcity in your defn on a set
>of contingent factors that pre-suppose the existence of capitalism in
>the first place.

I don't see the basis for this assessment.  It is surely true that capital
scarcity is contingent, and that it is contingent on factors specific to
the capitalist mode of production.  Granting these points does not deny the
claim that capital scarcity is necessary for the existence of surplus value.


>Paul Cockshott, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland
>0141 330 3125  mobile:07946 476966

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