Re: [OPE-L] Anita's Chocolate Cake

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Wed Nov 09 2005 - 09:31:41 EST

Hi Steve:

>  But to really explain the (differential) effect of each of the examples 
> or conditions of existence that you mention would require an empirical 
> analysis, one which could lead to potential surprise, and recognize the 
> importance of variation or difference.  

Yes, I would agree with that ... if we broadly interpret the meaning of
empirical analysis.


> Let me ask you a question in return.  Granted Anita's labor is one of the 
> constitutive elements in the making of the cake, but so too is flour.  If I told 
> you that the flour used in Anita's cake was bought from a large national 
> wholesaler, etc., etc., would that extension of the conditions of existence 
> of the cake be any more or less important than the extension you much 
> more vividly detailed?  Perhaps more important for the politics of labor 
> or exploitation, but any more important for the constitution of the cake? 

Yes, the coming into existence of all of the ingredients of the cake are
constitutive elements in the making of the cake.  This means that the
conditions in which sugar, flour, milk, eggs, and chocolate are 
produced and distributed _can_ have an impact on the final outcome
(the cake).

These conditions might affect the coming into being of the chocolate cake
in the following way:

-- the productivity, costs of production, the location (and hence
transport costs) of the firm and the competitive structure of the 
branch of production producing any one of these ingredients can 
affect the PRICE of the ingredients and can then, depending on 
Anita's price elasticity of demand, affect the individual demand 
for the ingredients and perhaps a willingness to use a *substitute* 
good for one of the ingredients.   

[However, recalling Anita's class position, the fact that she is a chef 
(and therefore loath to use substitutes), the fact that she is a 
mother for whom the creation of the cake is thought of more as an 
act of love than labor, and the fact that this is a special occasion
(Mariarosa's 7th birthday) leads me to believe that if necessary she
will pay higher prices for the original ingredients (after all, how many
times will Mariarosa have her 7th birthday?).  This is not a "bias"
on my part, it is a deduction.]

--  the production conditions, technology, and location of the 
producer of the food inputs can affect the  QUALITY of the cake ... 
in many different ways.  E.g. are preservatives used in the 
manufacturing and distribution of the ingredients?   How "fresh"
are the ingredients?  As a professional chef, Anita will almost
certainly be sensitive to quality and freshness issues [and "only
the best is good enough for Mariarosa"].

-- the AVAILABILITY of ingredients will affect the cake.  This
availability could be shaped by natural forces (e.g. a hurricane which
destroys sugar cane) and social forces (e.g. the milk producers could
have gone on strike).

Additionally,  the STATE  can be expected to enter in various ways
into the formation of Anita's chocolate cake.  E.g.  water, electricity, 
and oven fuel are all needed for the cake but they are most probably
provided by public utilities which are owned or regulated by the
Venezuelan state or the municipality of Caracas.  

Then, of course,  all of the firms which sell goods to the ingredient
producers can impact the PRICE, etc. of the ingredients.  E.g.
can affect the price of  flour.  A shortage in the SUPPLY OF 
LABOR POWER and the SKILLS of workers can also impact the 
ability of the producers of the ingredients  (and the producers of
the non-labor material inputs in the branches of production making
commodities which are purchased by the flour, etc. producers)
to produce the ingredients as well as the cost and quality of those
ingredients.  Even the HEALTH of the workers producing and distributing
the ingredients could conceivably impact the quality of the ingredients.
Even LANGUAGE can impact the cake (what _are_ really in the 
ingredients?; are they the same as is implied by the labels?).


What is highlighted in this example is the extent to which there is
a DIVISION OF LABOR in capitalist society and how the activities
of workers, consumers, capitalist firms, and the state are inter-
related and inter-connected.  There are additional levels of 
complexity observed in this example, e.g. the coming into being of 
Anita's cake could not be understood without a recognition of 
the fact that Anita is a loving and nurturing mother: in this
example, we have to recognize how the relation between mother
and daughter affects the outcome (in a real sense, the time spent
by Anita in the creation of the cake is an act of love).

To answer your questions about which condition is "more 
important"  requires that we first identify all of the conditions of
existence of the cake.  Then,  there is the _possibility_ of 
attaching greater or lesser importance to some variables than
others.  *Don't you think so?*  (you seemed to concede this
point re in-grown toenails vs. hart disease).

I think the issue gets back to: what are you attempting to
explain?  I.e. what is the SUBJECT  that you are trying to
understand?  Different subjects of analysis have different 
appropriate methods of analysis.  That's one reason why I'm 
not keen on your suggestion to examine the _Dialectical 
Botanist_.  Do we have to take a position on the (alleged)
"dialectics of nature" to make meaningful statements about
Anita's chocolate cake?   One could argue, of course,
that the "big bang" was a necessary constitutive element in the
creation of the cake, but does that mean that we can't attach 
any importance to different variables unless and until we 
understand the creation and evolution of the universe?

At some point, one has to recognize that all information about
the social life is incomplete, but that shouldn't prevent us from 
attempting to grasp social forces and develop theories which
purport to explain those social realities.  And, yes, there is
most certainly a role for empirical analysis in this endeavor.  
What type of empirical analysis, though, depends (once again)
on what we are attempting to understand.

In solidarity, Jerry

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