[OPE-L:5115] waste, value, and potential

From: Gerald_A_Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@email.msn.com)
Date: Wed Mar 07 2001 - 09:56:38 EST

Michael P's recent book _Transcending the Economy:
On the Potential of Passionate Labor and the Wastes 
of The Market_ (NY, St. Martin's Press, 2000; ISBN
0-312-22977-1) raises some issues which have not
been systematically addressed by either mainstream
(neo-neo-classical) theory or heterodox theories, including
Marxist theories. 

An indication of the later point can be seen in Ch. 5
("A Review of the Literature") in which the few sources
where waste has been discussed in mainstream economic
theory are reviewed.  There is no mention at all of any
specifically Marxist literature on waste. Perhaps there
is some Marxist literature on waste, maybe in non-
English languages, that Michael is unaware of?

This doesn't mean that Marx and Marxist perspectives
aren't discussed. There is a very brief mention of Fred's
and Shaikh/Tonak's writings about unproductive labor
(pp. 9-10), but Michael adds "My concept of waste
goes considerably further than these calculations of
unproductive labor".  I agree that Michael *does* go
much further in analyzing waste, but I wonder: why
weren't the subjects of value and unproductive labor
more explicitly brought to bear on a discussion of
wealth?  I.e. even if one says that one needs to go
*beyond* the prior Marxist discussions of value,
shouldn't those discussions be discussed, evaluated,
and critiqued?  Perhaps the answer is to be found in
the intended use for the book, i.e. it is intended, it seems,
to me to be a "popular" book suitable perhaps for
undergraduate classes (in what I'm not sure).

Marx is discussed briefly, especially in connection with
Ch. 5 ("Conflict in the Production Process"), but his
analysis is not examined systematically as it relates
to other subjects in the book, imo.  Why this is the 
case, I'm not sure. Perhaps it is grounded in the belief
that there isn't all that much in Marx on the subject of 
waste and we need to deepen our analysis beyond what he wrote? To some degree, I agree. Yet, it seems to me,
that the connections of Marx to the subject of waste
can be more deeply explored. Indeed -- perhaps we can
have that discussion here on OPE-L?

Let's see if we can identify a broad framework (outline
if you will) in which we can discuss waste, value, &
wealth (and something Michael calls "passionate labor").
Here are some ideas for broad subjects for discussion:

I) Waste of Value

a) waste of labor-power

    To begin with, we have to look at waste from a *class
    perspective* it seems to me. E.g. *from the standpoint
    of capital*  the decline of child labor might be seen 
    as wasted potential. Not so from the *perspective of
    the working class*.   Similarly, if absolute surplus
    value is decreased by a shortening of the working
    day or the workweek, this might be seen as wasted
    potential from the perspective of the capitalist class.
    Not so from the perspective of the working class. 
    Also, a decrease in the intensity of labor might be seen
    as wasted potential from the standpoint of capital yet
    it would be seen otherwise by the working class.

    Another area in which this differing perspective can
    be seen (and this gets us a little closer to the concept
    of "passionate labor") are differing concepts of *leisure*.
    From a capitalist perspective, and from the standpoint
    of the Protestant work ethic, leisure is waste (especially
    if its leisure by the working class!).  Yet, increased
    leisure time is something that the working class
    struggles for. Also, while a vacation (e.g. sailing by
    a working-class family) might be seen as wasted
    potential by capital, it is seen as *pleasure* by the
    working class. Indeed, it is *for pleasure* (and passion),
    in addition to merely subsistence, that workers work
    for, right? 

    At the other end of life in capitalist society there is also
    waste of potential labor power. Thus, especially in 
    advanced capitalist economies, workers are forced
    into early retirement (or are discriminated against
    in the market for labor power based on their age). 
    Yet, here there are differences in perspective among
     workers: many workers can't wait until retirement
    (when they think that they can *finally* experience
    pleasure -- in this context, I mean liberation from work)
    whereas other workers can't imagine life without earning
    a wage (and who knows how many thousands, perhaps
    millions?, have died shortly after retirement when they
    seemed to have lost the will and zest to live? Thus,
    sad to say,  for all too many workers the freedom from 
    work ushers in the freedom from life).

    One might also argue that the *capitalist* division of
    labor promotes waste. E.g. occupations which are
    only useful to the realization or transfer of value
    rather than the creation of new value might be viewed
    as wasted potential labor power. Here we can find
    some connections between the subject of unproductive
    labor and waste.

    Then, of course, there is the army of the unemployed.
    From one perspective, this might be seen as wasted
    potential (indeed, this is implied by the marginalist
    "production possibilities curve" graph). Yet, from the
    standpoint of capital the IRA is not waste *alone* -- rather
    it serves an important function *for capital*: i.e. to
    help drive down wages, intensify labor, and increase
    the bargaining power of capitalists.  The working class,
    of course, views the matter differently.

    Paradoxically, while the working class struggles for
    greater leisure time it also struggles against an
    expansion of the IRA.  This is because when workers
    join the IRA they have a lot more "free time" for 
    leisure, but not enough money to enjoy that leisure!
    Thus, the old story for the working class under capitalism
    is that they either have no time for leisure but earn a 
    wage or they have nothing but time for leisure but don't
    have the money that they view as necessary to enjoy that
    time. Either way, they lose.

  b) waste of constant capital

      On the waste of circulating constant capital, I will
      write more in the next section. But, here, I will simply
      note that there are important ecological consequences.

      What about the "forcible destruction of capital values"
      that occur in a crisis? This could be viewed as *wasted
      value*, couldn't it?  Indeed, isn't the whole subject
      of "moral depreciation" related to the subject of waste?
      Yet, an exploration of wasted value (often caused
       by wasted use-value) must be linked to the subject
       of the transformation of value and use-value caused
       by technical change. Thus, on one level there *is* 
       waste when there are advances in computer
       technology (as the use-values of the older technologies
       are rendered prematurely obsolete), yet in this case
       waste might be seen as promoting the accumulation
      of  capital.

       [While on the topic of accumulation of capital, we 
       should note that this *is* the capitalist passion:
       "Accumulate! Accumulate ...."    Similarly,
       we might say that many capitalists view labor 
       employed in pursuit of war and plunder as a
        *passion*.  (And, of course, the military views
        war as the ultimate passionate activity). The
        working class, however, has very different passions
        -- although some segments of the working class
        influenced by "education", the media, government
        propaganda, etc. can come to embrace the idea
        of war as passion. This, however, leads us to
        another subject -- the state (since an understanding
        of nationalism assumes an understanding of the state 
        in capitalist society).

    c) transfer of value

        There is a transfer of value by capitalists to the
     state.  Does this represent, on some level, a
     waste of value?  I would say: not necessarily.
     It depends on what we mean here by the expression 
     "waste". And it depends on *who* (i.e. what class)
     it is a waste (or a benefit) to?  Thus, war -- from the
     standpoint of the international working class -- 
     represents a waste of working class lives. Not so
     from the perspective of capital and capitalist nations.
     Another question, though: can  the transfer of
     value to the state lead to a deceleration in the
     accumulation of capital? Or might it hasten the
     accumulation of capital within individual capitalist
     nations at the expense of capitalists in other nations?

(I'm tiring, causing a decrease in my passion, so the rest
of this post will be briefer)

II. Waste and wealth

    Consider the contribution of *nature* to social wealth.
    The capitalist class might view unutilized natural
    resources as "wasted potential"  Indeed, on a PPC
    curve graph, if there isn't the "full employment" of
    natural resources, this is "inefficient" and wasteful".
    Yet, what are the environmental consequences of
    attempts to increase social wealth by "fully employing"
    natural resources?  Taken to the extreme (and the
    logic of accumulation drives capitalists to extremes),
    this threatens all life on this planet, human included
    (capitalists included as well).

    The above might be explored, in part (but _only_ part)
     by a consideration of the acquisition of what become
     elements of constant circulating capital.

    Capitalists seek to accumulate capital. But, doesn't
     the working-class often seek to accumulate 
     commodities that are used for individual consumption?
     Of course, working class *passions* for a lot of
     commodities are created often by "consumerism"
     promoted by various social institutions, especially
     *advertising* by capitalists. What is the effect of
      this working-class (and other class) demand for
     consumer goods on the environment?  How will their
     passions be changed? 

III. The Way Forward

     I guess we could agree with the desire for passionate
     labor as a true expression of human potential.

     Yet, how do we get from here to there?
     Michael's book is self-consciously in the tradition of the
     Utopian Socialists, especially Fourier. Indeed, he
     concludes near the end of his book that what is required
     is a transformation of society but that "whether it
     proceeds along the rather modest course I am 
     suggesting here or the revolutionary path that Marx
     foresaw -- society has no choice but to begin the
     process as soon as possible" (p. 160).  Yet this
     begs the question --  can we eliminate waste and
     have "passionate labor"  with a "modest course"
     or is a revolutionary transformation required?

Does anyone else want to talk about waste and value
and passionate labor?

In solidarity, Jerry


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Apr 02 2001 - 09:57:28 EDT