Re: [OPE-L] "Levels of abstraction"

From: Dave Zachariah (davez@KTH.SE)
Date: Fri Feb 01 2008 - 18:28:03 EST

Jurriaan, I wish to point out again that I have never claimed that
services are unproductive. Tangible goods is not the issue here.

> So the reference to "support" is irrelevant.

By "support" I meant a flow of goods and labour. That can hardly be
irrelevant to our discussion. Productive sectors can exist without
unproductive ones but the opposite is not true; that much is common ground.

> But here your story degenerates in the crudest caricature of
> historical analogy. I would accept that from a 5 year old child, but
> not from an intellectual quite capable of understanding the difference
> between feudal relations and capitalist relations.

I joined this list to discuss political economy, let's keep it to that.

The fact that you wish to engage in the simplistic story I gave allows
us to get to the core of the issue. Then it maybe easier to see how
things translate under capitalist relations of production. We are
looking at abstract economic processes here, trying to see what is
invariant. (After all, this thread is called "Levels of abstraction".)

> I could equally argue that the soldiers produced security, and the
> craftsmen produced jewellery for the King, for which they were paid,
> so they supported themselves. In addition, they used their wage to buy
> products from the peasants, so they supported the peasants as well.
> [...] You might argue, yeah but the King, the craftsmen and the
> soldiers depended on the peasant's food to live at all. This is true,
> but if the craftsmen and soldiers did not buy their food, and if the
> King did not protect the peasants with his soldiers, the peasants
> would have no income and in fact there might not be any food produced
> at all, because they were plundered and wrecked by marauding robber
> barons. You might argue this is all a silly story, but it is a silly
> story because you have not investigated the real history of the King,
> the soldiers, the craftsmen and the peasants at all. You have just
> assumed a one-way dependency of the King, the craftsmen and the
> soldiers on the peasants, but this is purely arbitrary.

They key point is that the peasants, as a collective, are a
self-sustained economic entity. Discard all the King's horses and all
the King's men and this economic sub-system will continue to reproduce
the means of production and consumption for the working population.
Discard the peasants and it is the end of production of the King's
protection and luxuries as well.

If the soldiers and craftsmen stopped paying peasants for their goods,
it would not change their underlying relationship in the reproduction of
society. The system of goods and labour is intact for the peasants.

Let's look at your argument from the opposite direction: Suppose the
King employs more craftsmen, that means more people are paying for the
output of the peasants who receive a higher income. Has their standard
of living improved? Not at all. The incomes of the craftsmen are
financed by taxes, which fall on the peasants. So in fact, the more
people the King employs for his own use, the greater is the burden on
the peasants; the more surplus labour has to be extracted from them.

If one draws a directed graph with one node for each category of agents
and arcs that show the flow of social labour (direct or materialised),
then the arrows from the peasants, soldiers and craftsmen all point
toward the King. Arrows also point from the peasants to the soldiers and
craftsmen but not the other way around.

//Dave Z

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