[OPE-L] Fwd: Consumer behaviour

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Tue Feb 22 2005 - 13:21:15 EST


---------------------------- Original Message -----------------
Subject: Consumer behaviour
From:    "Jurriaan Bendien" <andromeda246@hetnet.nl>
Date:    Tue, February 22, 2005 12:31 pm
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Jerry,

Thanks for your comment. In his book The Making of Marx's Capital, Roman
Rosdolsky emphasizes the importance of use-value in Marx's economic
thought, while I.I. Rubin emphasizes "Value presupposes use value. The
process of the  formation of value presupposes the process of producing
use values." http://www.marxists.org/subject/economy/rubin/ch04.htm Steve
Keen also  comments on this http://ideas.repec.org/p/wop/pokear/_026.html

In fact Marx himself commented once that use-value played a greater role
in  his theory than among the political economists he criticised. In his
"Notes  on Adolph Wagner's "Lehrbuch der politischen Íkonomie" (1881) Marx
states:

"...only a vir obscurus who has not understood a word of Capital can
conclude: Because Marx in a note in the first edition of Capital rejects
all  the German professorial twaddle about "use-value" in general, and
refers  readers who want to know something about real use-values to
"manuals dealing  with merchandise"-for this reason use-value plays no
part in his work".
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1881/01/wagner.htm

One aspect of the problem is simply that not all use-values can become
commodities at any time for technical, economic and social reasons, and
that  the transformation or modification of use-values (including
labour-power  itself) in order to become commodities may affect how they
are specifically  supplied, structured, combined and consumed.

Simply put, the supply and nature of many use-values becomes specifically
designed so they will sell at a profit, and therefore, you can say that
the value-form begins to affect the very nature of what is and is not
produced, beyond any specific technical necessity. Out of different
possible technologies and design options, some are chosen which are
practicable within the framework of market sales and the need to show a
profit. But this means that technical progress, and consequently
capitalist culture, is not socially neutral, since it is at least
constrained by whatever is compatible with market sales and profits, as
well as legal controls. That's quite obvious if you look for example at
the history of the development of petrol-fueled cars, or of computers.
It's not a particularly novel insight, but presumably the aim in
elaborating Marx's theory further would be to trace out the economic
'logic' in the sphere of consumption, showing how the contradictions of
exchange-value and use-value are specifically mediated and resolved.

As to the objection that, the level of abstraction Marx operates at, he
cannot discuss the peculiarities of human subjects, I don't think this
necessarily has a bearing on the theoretical argument, precisely because
human needs and wants are also objectified as "a quantity of market
demand"  with a given structure, as reflected e.g.  in household
expenditure surveys.  Those needs which can be satisfied through the cash
nexus are emphasized,  while those needs not able to be so satisfied are
de-emphasized. There exist  broad categories of use-values which
correspond to basic human needs which  are more or less permanent, and
then the question arises how the
satisfaction of these needs are structured in order to fulfill the
requirements of the accumulation of capital, and how the conflicts between
 human needs and those requirements are resolved.

Already at the beginning of Cap. Vol. 1, when he introduces the concept of
use-value, Marx refers to the idea of consumer sovereignity: "In bourgeois
societies the economic fictio juris prevails, that every one, as a buyer,
possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of commodities" (Progress edition, p.
44). The doctrine of consumer sovereignity was criticised among others by
Marc Linder (in Anti-Samuelson) and Francis Green/Petter Nore, Economics:
An Anti-Text (Macmillan, 1977).

As regards advertising, in the USA it is probably excessive, but some
advertising is indispensable as an information basis for market knowledge;
 it is a necessary consequence of market expansion and an intrinsic
characteristic of markets. A wide variety of different forms of
advertising  exists however, some useless, some useful. Surveys suggest
that people  accept a certain amount of advertising as useful, but beyond
that regard it  as a nuisance. The study of consumer behaviour on which
much
advertising is based is also undoubtedly a useful science, insofar as
planned economy must aim to reconcile output and needs in an efficient
way.  I cannot provide precise references for this claim, but in the past
I did  read a lot of marketing and consumer behaviour literature in the
course of  my work, where empirical evidence for this insight was
provided.

So anyway then the general point is that the economic position of the
worker  is never defined simply by his existence as producer, but also as
consumer;  profit, interest, rent and royalties are also an impost on the
consumer  items s/he buys, affecting the value of labour-power and
therefore  indirectly the rate of surplus-value and profit. In this
regard, it could  with justification be argued that the potential for
exploitation does not  begin and end at "the point of production" at all.
Finally, the worker is  also as citizen in civil society a juridically
constituted subject of the  political state, who owns himself and has
certain rights and obligations.  Again not a particularly novel idea, but
one which is rarely theorised  systematically in a way consistent with
Marx's theory.

My impression is that Negri regards all commerce as necessarily a bad
thing,  but this seems to me a critique which lacks nuance and is really
not  warranted. Trade does generate human progress, but also "at a price".
Hence  Marx's attempt at a dialectical critique of trade, showing that it
is not  all good or all bad, but has contradictory results.
I am not sure what "auto-valorisation" means. Marx uses the concept of
valorisation to apply to the augmentation of capital within the production
 process. In the sphere of consumption, at issue is not primarily
valorisation, but the realisation of value.

As regards a rent strike, there is not much possibility yet of anything
like that in Holland, although the government wants to abolish rent
controls for 600,000 rented dwellings and impose market-based rents. The
very idea of market-based rents is rather suspect though, since a rather
small number of corporations own the bulk of the rental housing stock!
Rent strikes require a high level of solidarity and organisation to be
effective, which is  probably
why there are few successful examples in modern times where populations
are much more mobile and local communities often do not have the type of
social solidarity required.

I did consider that "simply because there is exchange does not mean that
there is value", but in my interpretation, this case would apply where the
 good
being exchanged is not a labour-product (for example, unimproved land or
some types of financial or legal claims or non-reproducible goods). I
realise of course that the subordination of labor by the forms of value
assumes developed markets, i.e. the social consequences of the fact that
labor-products possess value will differ depending on the level of
sophistication of trade that has been reached, and the social relations
that accompany this.

Jurriaan


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