(OPE-L) value theory and the macroeconomics of looting

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Wed Apr 16 2003 - 08:17:06 EDT

The looting of property in Iraq made me think about the
following question:

* What are the macroeconomic consequences of 
   looting from a value-theoretic perspective?

Let's consider a couple of different scenarios:

I)  *The wealth which is looted was produced by wage-labor
under capitalist conditions and took the commodity-form and
represents value.*

a) If the commodities were owned by a capitalist prior to sale 
(the sale that never happened) then the looting represents a 
loss of surplus value (value which was never actualized in exchange) 
and individual profit.   Under certain circumstances, this loss of 
value by an individual capitalist will result in gains of value (a 
redistribution of value) for other capitalists.  Is that the case 
generally in this scenario or is there a net loss in value on the macro
level?  If working-class families are the beneficiaries of looting,
can the looting be thought of rather as a redistribution of value
after production and wage determination among social classes?
Rather than looting the finished product, it could be that means of
production are the loot.   How will that impact the rate of profit?

b)  If the value was owned by the state or some other public 
institution (e.g. not-for-profit organizations), then the looting could
be thought of as representing a redistribution of value from the state
to whichever segments of  social classes which gain the loot.   As
before,  if working-class families (or peasants or members of the 
'informal sector') are receiving the loot can't this be thought of as a 
redistribution of value to segments of the working class (or peasantry 
or informal sector)?   Or, if capitalists are looting state property and 
then use that value to purchase means of means of production and 
labour-power, couldn't the loot be used to underwrite the expanded 
accumulation of capital? What would be the consequence here in terms 
of the macro rate of profit?

II. *The wealth which is looted was produced under pre-capitalist
conditions of production and has exchange-value and use-value but
not value.*  In this category, one might place the looting of the 
national museums in Iraq which largely contained "priceless" ancient
art, crafts and artifacts.  

In this case, products which never represented value will most
frequently, in due course, be sold on the market by the looters or 
third parties representing the looters.  For the families selling the
loot this represents a redistribution of wealth from the state (or not-
for-profit institution) to themselves.  It creates the possibility for a
handful for significant class mobility (although the benefits will more
likely be gained by speculators and re-sellers than the looters 
themselves).   So, wealth has been redistributed in this case, 
but has value?   Is there any consequence in terms of the macro
rate of profit in the nation where the loot was taken from?  What
about the macro effect in the nation where the loot ends up? I
have no doubt that many of the national treasures stolen in 
Iraq will end up being sold in auction houses and galleries in New
York, London, and Paris.  They will, no doubt, then be purchased
as luxury goods by wealthy families in those nations and elsewhere
or by state and not-for-profit museums.   Should this process be
conceptualized in terms of the primitive accumulation of capital? 
What, if any, consequence can be anticipated for the nation that
is the recipient of the loot in terms of macroeconomic growth?

One could claim that in either instance, the total wealth that the
loot represents would not have a significant effect in terms of 
the accumulation of and distribution of wealth and capital, but
I am interested here in the underlying theoretical questions that
are raised by looting.  

Are the macroeconomic consequences of looting similar to the 
consequences of peasant seizures of land and/or worker seizures 
of factories?  

Do the oil fields in Iraq now represent 'loot' for (primarily) US-based

Any thoughts?

In solidarity, Jerry

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