Re: [OPE-L] self-interest in _Capital_ and Marxian theory

From: Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM
Date: Thu Sep 01 2005 - 11:10:32 EDT

Previously I wrote:
In _Capital_,  capitalists -- to the extent to which they are
"capital personified" and are assumed to wear character masks -- are
essentially assumed to behave rationally in a manner consistent with the
maximization of self-interest.  Yet, I think that this -- *given the
level(s) of concretion of _Capital_, i.e. of "capital-in-general"*  --
was appropriate.  If, however, we are focused on a much more concrete,
historically contingent  level where we are considering the behavior of
individual capitalists and firms _then_ we have to allow for some other,
additional motivation besides self-interest in the form of
profit-maximizing effort.  E.g. prestige.
Andy responded: I don't quite agree with how you have put this. I'd say
capitalists act on self-interest at the level where we have just
introduced many capitals in Vol III. We cannot really talk about
self-interest, about the consciousness of capitalists, prior to that
because we haven't introduced profit, and it is profit that fills the
consciousness of the individual capitalist. On the other hand, your
stated view does seem to fit the 'character mask' quote (in one of the
prefaces to Capital Vol 1) better since why would Marx mention this in
the preface to Volume I if it only applies to Cap Vol. 3?
Jerry responds:  the assumption that capitalists are "capital personified",
while made initially in Volume 1, is maintained throughout _Capital_.
Even in Volume 3, where there are "many capitals" and where capitalists
can act as "hostile brothers", they are motivated by self-interest and are
assumed to behave in a manner consistent with the maximization of
self-interest.  Of course, the way in which these subjects are conceived
are different in the different volumes, e.g. in Volume 1, capitalists are
assumed to seek the maximum possible rate of surplus value (hence
their ongoing efforts to maximize the production of absolute and relative
surplus value)  whereas in Volume 3 the effort to seek the maximum rate of
profit possible leads to the entry and exit of money capital in different
branches of production and the formation of a general rate of profit.

The assumption that capitalists are "capital personified" has special
meaning re _self_ interest.   I.e. if  individual capitalists were
individuals in the full sense of the term rather than being mere "bearers
of capital relations" then self-interest might result in attempting to
maximize the consumption of *luxury* goods.  But,  if  money is
unproductively expended for the purposes of individual capitalist
consumption then that leaves less money that can be used for the
purposes of productive consumption and accumulation.  So, it is because
capitalists are assumed to be "capital personified" that causes them to
restrict their individual consumption and "accumulate, accumulate,
accumulate".  In Volume 3, we see that the force of competition reinforces
this process:  i.e. competitiveness for individual capitalists requires that
they productively consume surplus value to the greatest extent possible.
If they do not do this, then they are put at a competitive disadvantage
and are likely to receive less than the average rate of profit.

My perspective is that in Books 2 thru 4 (the three books on classes) class
interest has to be re-conceived, developed, and concretized.  This means, in
part, that at a later level of analysis, the assumption of character masks
must be dropped.  Once this happens, then capitalist behavior can be
examined more  concretely.  This question of self-interest, and whether
there are other motivations that are systematically important for the
subject matter, has special importance for the subject of   Book 3 on
Wage-Labour, I believe.

In solidarity, Jerry

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Sep 02 2005 - 00:00:00 EDT