[OPE-L:7640] monopolies in natural resources

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Tue Sep 10 2002 - 11:28:07 EDT

In [7636] Fred wrote:

> However, this is not what I mean by scarce.  Instead, I mean that
> capitalists cannot increase production of a natural resource unless the
> owners of that natural resource - the landlords - allow it.  And in
> general, landlords will not allow an increase of production unless they
> receive a rent, even on the least productive land or mines.  This rent
> paid to landlords on the least productive land or mines is absolute
> rent.  It is not historically contingent.  Rather, it is inherent in the
> capitalist mode of production, or at least inherent in capitalist
> production with private ownership of natural resources.

There is an interesting issue here that concerns struggles among
capitalists and struggles among capitalists and lardlords.  You write
what landlords will not  "allow".  Certainly, they will resist any
attempts to break up their monopoly but it is in the nature of monopoly
that others will attempt to by-pass the monopoly through various means.
Of relevance here  is the capacity of technological change to make
possible alternatives.  E.g. diamonds have long (for several
decades) been manufactured.  This represents a (potential) threat to the
diamond monopoly.  Similarly, there have been methods developed to
extract gold from water.   For this and other reasons monopolies
tend to be historically contingent and unstable.

There have been other cases where an alternative technology is developed
that breaks the strength of the monopoly and/or creates another
(alternative) monopoly.  Consider energy generation (e.g. nuclear, solar,
wind) and home heating alternatives.

Moreover, monopoly power in terms of ownership of natural resources
often takes the form of cartels rather than just a 'pure monopoly'.
In this circumstance, while there are incentives for cartel members
to come to an agreement and stick to it, there are also short-run incentives
for individual cartel members to break an agreement (e.g. by selling
more or by selling at lower prices).   Once this happens, then the
solidarity required for the cartel to function effectively tends to erode
and the cartel begins to unravel.

At an more concrete level of investigation, it should also be noted that
ownership of these resources is  often _not_ private but "public", i.e.
there is frequently state ownership of natural resources.  (It should
even be noted that historically there have been 'extra-legal' examples
of successful efforts at monopoly breaking: e.g. the theft of pineapples
for replanting in Hawaii).

In solidarity, Jerry

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