Re: [OPE-L] glossary for V1 of _Capital

From: Dave Zachariah (davez@KTH.SE)
Date: Wed Jan 09 2008 - 04:30:38 EST

I agree with Paul Z that the concept of "accumulation of capital" is
ambiguous. However, it is not 'accumulation' that is hard to conceptualize
but 'capital'. In the most general use 'capital' is a sum of money that is
employed to obtain more money.

As such "accumulation of capital" naturally excludes accumulation of money
through taxation but includes accumulations through trade, stocks and
dividends, debt and  interest, production and sales.

However, what has been confusing is that Marxist economists have also used
"capital accumulation" to describe the growth of the quantity of goods
invested in production (measured in monetary units). The growth in the
quantity of money and of goods are in general different processes.

//Dave Z

> I don't think that in general tax contributes to accumulation at all. It
> usually used to finance current expenditure, much of which is
> unproductive. Capital accumulation by the state is more commonly
> financed by the issue of bonds.
> From: OPE-L [mailto:OPE-L@SUS.CSUCHICO.EDU] On Behalf Of Ian Hunt
> Sent: 09 January 2008 00:22
> Subject: Re: [OPE-L] glossary for V1 of _Capital
> Dear Juriaan,
> Surely that is a bit swift? Taxation may (or may not-it is an empirical
> matter) give rise to the largest accumulations of money in modern
> societies but only part of these accumulations functions as capital: a
> large part of tax receipts are spent on other than money making
> government activities. Even if it were true that taxation yields the
> largest accumulation of money functioning as capital, it is dos not seem
> to me a particularly compelling reason for Marx's ideas to go out of
> fashion. More compelling reasons surely relate to the apparently
> continuing progressive role of capitalism: however, changes in fashion
> are not entirely based on sound reasons so you might be right about the
> impact of taxation on the popularity of marxism, though i doubt it
> myself,
> Cheers,
> Ian
>         Generically, accumulation (Latin: accumulo) refers to the act of
> piling up, storing up, or amassing things in plentitude, sometimes with
> the connotation of hoarding, and often referring to the amassment of
> wealth and thus by implication enrichment.
>         Marx and Engels commented at times on the "limited use of
> definitions". We use definitions to indicate and fix phenomena, and
> permit the abstract manipulation of their symbolizations, but the
> important thing is to understand the real process, movement,
> development, relations etc. behind the definitions. Generally, a
> dialectical definition tries to grasp a phenomenon as a dynamic totality
> involving opposed but mutually presupposing forces, which reveals the
> essential relations involved, and their mediations.
>         Problems arise, if we confuse or conflate the fixity of a
> definition with the real phenomenon to which it refers, which is subject
> to change in the dimension of time. Good definitions are therefore
> arrived at by historical thinking, i.e. thinking which incorporates the
> dimension of temporal change. The problem of language to which e.g.
> Alfred Korzybski also referred is really that much suffering can result
> out of the confusion and conflation between linguistic expressions and
> the real objects to which they refer.
>         In their critiques of the young Hegelian philosophers, Marx and
> Engels provide a similar thought. At issue here is the practice of
> "linguistic apposition", or, in plain language, concept mongering,
> whereby the philosopher claims to achieve knowledge about the world
> through speculative, semantic manipulations which rely on language use
> and etymology. The critique is really that this thinking is thinking
> separated from the object to which it refers, or more generally,
> thinking undisciplined by empirical experience and logical rigor.
> Effectively it confuses science with story-teling. One concept can be
> derived from another by inventing a relationship between them, but the
> necessary connection between them is spurious and arbitrary - the same
> concept could also be derived from, or related to another concept in any
> way we fancy, the only limit being a sense of credibility or
> plausibility. In this way, we could "prove" anything we like, but the
> proof is spurious, it relies only on the chosen definition of terms. The
> real question is whether the definitions adequately capture a reality
> which exists independently of those definitions, but to find this out,
> we have to investigate reality itself (and its representations in
> thought) systematically.
>         Thus, for example, an adequate "definition" of capital
> accumulation presupposes a real inquiry into the reality of capital
> accumulation.
>         Accumulation does not presuppose the existence of capital, but
> generally capital presupposes the existence of money (special situations
> can of course be found where commodities are bartered for other
> commodities, as in countertrade, resulting in accumulation of capital,
> or advantageous leasing, renting or hiring not involving money, but
> usually a general monetary expression is still assumed).
>         The simplest definition of capital accumulation is therefore the
> amassment of capital, of assets which can function as capital. Since
> these assets are usually expressible in monetary value, we could
> alternatively say "the amassment of money" as a shorthand.
>         The amassment could occur in different ways. The main ways are
> (1) to take or receive stuff from somebody else unilaterally, (2) to
> trade or exchange stuff bilaterally or (3) to produce additional stuff,
> from which you can derive many other sorts of variants and combinations
> depending on what rights, duties and obligations apply. This presupposes
> recognizable property rights however. If there are no property rights,
> you could also simply appropriate from the surroundings without 1, 2 and
> 3 occurring at all ("natural appropriation" or "communistic
> appropriation").
>         The economic definition of capital accumulation however refers
> to the process whereby a quantity of assets expressible in money (a
> value) is transformed into a larger quantity (a larger value). Since
> that process can take innumerable forms, capital accumulation can also
> take a great variety of forms. A "theory" of this consists of valid
> generalisations from experience about those forms, providing a coherent
> explanation of how and why they occur. Much of Das Kapital consists of a
> "form analysis" in this sense, showing how one form leads to, or is
> related to, other forms.
>         The intrinsic ambiguity of the concept is really that
> accumulation could imply either a transfer (redistribution) of wealth,
> or a net addition to wealth, or both in combination. We could for
> instance claim we are adding to wealth, while we are in fact only
> transferring it, on the ground e.g. that the transfer is a necessary
> condition for a net addition to wealth, which in turn may involve a
> particular idea about what wealth is anyway.
>         The mystification of accumulation depends on fudging the notions
> of transfer versus net addition, of wealth, and of property relations,
> and out of that mystification we can build an ideology of accumulation
> which helps justify the possession of assets by some and not others.
>         The largest single category of capital accumulation in modern
> society is taxation. This is largely ignored in the Marxist literature,
> which may help to explain why Marxism went out of fashion.
>         Jurriaan
>         look in your glossary, there's a picture of me under failure.
>         i could be sitting there. waiting w/ you for an hour or two.
>         subways and motorcars both seem to linger forever
>         i see you fall away, your scream it's melting the hours
>         i didn't make enough time for you.
>         i could've had anything but threw away everything
>         i didn't make enough time for you.
>         i should've done something but i did nothing at all
>         i see a foreign girl pasting her new suit together
>         i see you far away cursing the saddest survivors.
>         - The Rosenbergs, "Glossary"
> --
> Associate Professor Ian Hunt,
> Dept  of Philosophy, School of Humanities,
> Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy,
> Flinders University of SA,
> Humanities Building,
> Bedford Park, SA, 5042,
> Ph: (08) 8201 2054 Fax: (08) 8201 2784

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