[OPE-L:7655] Re: Re: Re: monopolies in natural resources

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Fri Sep 13 2002 - 13:12:46 EDT

Where I said

> > Jerry's comments below underscore the importance of distinguishing two
> > senses of the term "monopoly"--the one used by Marx in describing a
> > condition of absolute scarcity, and the one used by (e.g.) Adam Smith and
> > the neoclassicals in describing a situation in which given market actors
> > enjoy the power to *set* the market price for a good, rather than taking
> > the market price as *given* (say, by the intersection of supply and
> > demand).  I understand Fred to refer to the condition of "absolute
> > scarcity" invoking only the former, Marxian sense of "monopoly,"-- a sense
> > in which notions like "collusion" and "cartel agreements" have no
> > place --rather than the sense that Jerry describes below.

Jerry writes

>Hi Gil.  Can we discuss this some more?
>Fred, in [7636], wrote about what landlords wouldn't "allow" in relationship
>to rent.
>My point was very simple:  whether rent is levied and what the size of
>rent isn't determined (alone; one-sidedly) by what landlords will or will
>not  "allow".  It is determined by  ...  what?
>My answer to that question is:  CLASS STRUGGLE.
>To only focus on what landlords will allow takes the class struggle out
>of rent determination.  It, in effect, asserts that landlords can simply
>dictate terms to capitalists.  Yet, there are means through which
>capitalists can attempt to break monopolies. Indeed, my previous point
>was that  the very existence of rent suggests that there will be attempts to
>develop alternatives to payment by various means (e.g. through
>technological change).

My point was that there are two ways to interpret Fred's claim, the first 
suggesting that landlords act *collectively*
to push up the magnitude of rents.  In this context your comments about 
class struggle clearly apply, and suggest that instead of having a 
(one-way) monopoly, there is a relationship of *bilateral* monopoly between 
colluding landlords on one hand and colluding capitalists on the other.

But there's a second way to interpret the term "monopoly," and I think it's 
consistent with Marx's usage of the term in various places  in Volume III, 
as a *class* monopoly over given means of production--meaning that 
ownership of these means is not general but restricted to a particular 
class, who thereby enjoy the power to command positive rents, *even in the 
absence of any collusion, or conscious efforts to restrict quantities and 
thus raise prices above what would otherwise obtain.*

>If Fred is not focusing on this issue now, it could be that the subject that
>Makoto, Fred, Rakesh, and yourself have been discussing relates most
>directly to Volume 3 of _Capital_ rather than to the subject of Landed
>Property (Book 2).  But, if we are to talk about rent determination outside
>of the context of  the "money commodity  and the transformation problem"
>then we have to leave the realm of equations and numerical illustrations and
>enter the real world of class conflict.  Given your interest in
>game-theoretic  approaches to political economy, this is a point that I
>think you should  appreciate.

Indeed so.  But I don't see any necessary inconsistency between "the realm 
of equations and numerical illustrations" and "the real world of class 
conflict."  Game theoretic models of such conflict, for example, would be 
squarely within this realm.  For example, if rent is interpreted as the 
consequence of a class monopoly as described above, then the existence of a 
positive rent implies that the absolute scarcity constraint on the supply 
of land is binding--that is, the demand price for land is strictly positive 
at the level of the scarcity constraint.

>Where did you get the idea, btw (NB: this is only a btw), that for Marx
>monopolies necessarily take the market price as given?

I don't have this idea in the first place, so I didn't "get" it from 
anywhere.  My point concerns *necessity*:  the existence of a class 
monopoly in (my reading of) Marx's sense need not imply conscious 
price-setting power on the part of *individual* members of the monopolizing 


>In solidarity, Jerry

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