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

From: Dogan Goecmen (dogangoecmen@AOL.COM)
Date: Wed Jan 09 2008 - 05:51:53 EST

"In the most general use 'capital' is a sum of money that is
employed to obtain more money."

This is a formalist definition of capital. Instead "'capital' is a sum of money", from Marxian philosophical point of view we should say: capital is EXPRESSED in the sum of money.

The concept of "accumulaton of capital" seems to many people to be ambiguous just because  they try to have a fixed definition of it, instead to grasp it as a dynamic concept.


-----Ursprüngliche Mitteilung----- 
Von: Dave Zachariah <davez@KTH.SE>
Verschickt: Mi., 9. Jan. 2008, 10:30
Thema: Re: [OPE-L] glossary for V1 of _Capital

I agree with Paul Z that the concept of "accumulation of capital" is
mbiguous. However, it is not 'accumulation' that is hard to conceptualize
ut 'capital'. In the most general use 'capital' is a sum of money that is
mployed to obtain more money.
As such "accumulation of capital" naturally excludes accumulation of money
hrough taxation but includes accumulations through trade, stocks and
ividends, 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
nvested in production (measured in monetary units). The growth in the
uantity 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



         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 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

         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.


         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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