[OPE-L:5116] Re: waste, value, and potential

From: Michael Perelman (michael@ecst.csuchico.edu)
Date: Wed Mar 07 2001 - 12:21:48 EST

Jerry, thanks for a discussion of my book.  I have to go a meetings in a couple of minutes, so I will be brief.

In most of my books, I put Marx at the forefront.  Here I wanted to make a simple point that there is so much
screwed up in our economy and society the way it is, that we have a great deal of latitude been experimenting
with non-market methods -- in effect, opening up a dialogue where Marxists could participate.

It was an experiment.  I'm not sure that I would judge it a success -- at least so far.  I also mentioned Fred
Moseley, I thought.

> Gerald_A_Levy wrote:
> 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.
> 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


Michael Perelman
Economics Department
California State University
Chico, CA 95929
fax 530-898-5901

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