[OPE-L:7241] Re: individual capitalist behaviour

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Thu May 23 2002 - 08:59:10 EDT

Re [7239]:

I'll pass over the first part of your post since you've said what you
want to say and I've done the same and we don't seem to be
getting anywhere.    Your comments about an "infantile reading of
Marx" and "infantile Marxism"  are not appreciated and not helpful.
Moreover,  I have for many years in many ways *emphasized* the role
of use-value in Marxian theory so you are basically arguing with the
wrong person about the wrong question.  I can understand, however,
why you might believe otherwise since you are not a listmember and
only selectively read my posts (this is not a criticism.)

I do, however, want to follow-up on a few issues.

> Now as to your new points: the professional investor as a speculator
> is usually completely orientated to getting the maximum rate of
> return, he doesn't mind if he makes his profit from a truckload of
> oranges or the sale of a house, and what people end up doing with
> those resources is no great concern of his. Nevertheless even the
> professional investor or speculator is still vitally interested in
> "use-values" because it is part of his market knowledge, he needs to
> know what sells where and why at what time. Of course, the bourgeoisie
> as a class contains many different divisions and strata. But they are
> all interested in the use-value of products.

a) capitalists who have money-capital that they invest in stocks and
bonds are *investors* rather than merely being speculators.  Their
concern is in general only the expected RRI.    Thus, when you say
"speculators" I think you mean the form in which *most* investment
in corporations happens today.

b) capitalists who invest money-capital in stocks do *not* have to
have "market knowledge".  Indeed,  as investors they need not know
anything particular about the market where they are investing money-
capital just as they need to know about corporate accounting or the
law.  There is, after all, *specialization* and a *division of labor* in
financial markets: thus, investors typically hire *others* (often working in
brokerage houses) to make recommendations about where to invest
their money.   When a recommendation is then made, the main -- and
often *only* concern --  is whether or not the recommendation is to
"buy" or "sell".  Furthermore, with the proliferation of  *mutual funds*,
investors need not even know that since the directors of the mutual
fund make their investments for them.

c) *Of course*,   industrial capitalists are concerned about use-value
to the extent that they are also concerned about exchange-value since
without use-value then no exchange-value.  Yet, despite this, their
focus is not  in general on use-value _primarily_ or on the production of a
_particular_ commodity -- their focus in general is on obtaining the
highest possible RRI.   The reason, in part, that I don't want to give
up on this insight is not only because it is important from the standpoint
of comprehending the *migration of capital* between firms and branches
of capital  (which, of course, does not imply that there is "perfect
mobility"  of  capital)  but also because it has contemporary relevance
in terms of understanding corporate trends such as *diversification* and
*conglomerate mergers*.

>  You can talk all you like about "levels of abstraction", "individual
> capitalists" and "cultural/ emotional attachment to the product or
> branch of activity" etc. but the real point is that NO real
> capitalists are indifferent to the use-values being produced and sold,
> ultimately precisely in function of the quest for surplus value. Hence
> also phenomena such as "quality circles", "total quality management",

"Quality circles" are not primarily about quality: they are an effort by
management to increase the *intensification of labor* in the production
process. They are attempts to divide workers and foster 'labor-
management cooperation' using the *pretext* of increased quality.
More broadly, they  are generally a component,  not primarily of the
marketing strategy, but of the firm's *production strategy* and have
historically arisen and are part of "lean production" (just-in-time;
kan-ban) systems and are modeled on the experience in large
Japanese  industrial corporations.

> "trade associations",

"Trade associations", at least in the US, are primarily focused on
lobbying activities.

>"customer and public  relations",

Public relations departments, like trade associations,  are often
focused on *legitimation* and *state policy*  rather than sales.

>  If anybody is "indifferent" it is more likely to be the Fordist or
> post-Fordist worker who day after day has to crank out commodities for
> which he personally maybe doesn't really care a hoot. What capitalist
> management tries to do, is to make sure that the worker "cares" about
> the product being produced and sold, sufficiently so that it is
> produced well, fast and sold in large quantities.

I  agree that  individual workers are often indifferent to the quality of
the commodity product. However, management within a  (post-) Fordist
system does not approach the issue in general from the standpoint of
quality.  Rather, they tell workers to simply "do your job".  This is,
in part, a consequence of the design of the labor process in the factory
where the individual worker is trained in a very specialized group of
tasks and need not know much if anything about the inner workings and
design of the finished commodity.  Thus,  the knowledge of many
autoworkers in an automobile assembly plant may be limited to the
common knowledge by consumers about automobiles.

>  Of course you can twist what I say into an apology for capitalism,

Why would I want to twist what you say or vice versa?

>  As regards my statement that capitalists are concerned about the
> social consequences of their actions, this is especially true for
> large corporations which have a big effect on the society they operate
> in. They cannot very well ignore the state, politics, population and
> the legal system of the countries they operate in, and they have to
> concern themselves with all sorts of social issues. Just study the
> behaviour of e.g. Monsanto or IBM or Microsoft for example. You can
> say they have this concern with definite private motives, or that they
> don't have the right concerns, but you cannot say that they are not
> concerned with, or unaware, of the social consequences of their
> activities.

Firms are concerned that, e.g. if they violate the law, then they are
not caught.  They are certainly concerned about the laws themselves
and spend large amounts of money lobbying the state for changes in
the law that benefit them.  For the same reason they are concerned
about politics.  Yet, their goal in general remains the same.  Thus
their focus on the state, politics, population, and the legal system is
still primarily about attempts to benefit capitalist profitability and
reproduce an  institutional environment in which they, as individual
capitalists and/or as a class, benefit.

As for Microsoft, well ....  I think the larger part of Microsoft's 'social
concern'  is simply public relations and is related to attempts on their
part to  soften actions by the Justice Department against their violations
of  anti-trust law.  Their *lack* of 'social concern'  can be seen in other
ways, e.g.  their use of prison labor to package software.  Now, on
the other hand, Bill Gates is an interesting character.  I would liken him
somewhat to Andrew Carnegie who, while one of the most ruthless
anti-union capitalists, then gave away just about all of his money near
the end of his life.  It is a case of a lifetime of "accumulate, accumulate"
followed by a spurt of "deaccumulate, deaccumulate".  Yet, of course,
Gates has -- quite literally -- billions of dollars to burn and his giving
away a significant proportion of his personal savings -- in addition to
being a tax write-of -- is probably a way that he can rationalize *to
himself* his own life.

>  I can assure you that I have assiduously studied Marx's Capital and
> other writings, plus all the important commentaries.

Of course. Was that ever in doubt?

> But that does not
> mean that we don't have to do our own thinking.

Of course.

> It doesn't mean we
> should take what Marx says as holy writ.

Of course.

In solidarity, Jerry

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