[OPE] peanut butter value-form theory

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Sun Apr 05 2009 - 05:42:12 EDT

According to some Marxists, socialist pricing regimes (what should regulate prices) must be based strictly on a calculus of labour values. But this is a bit of a no-brain idea in most cases, since pricing policy must be set according to both what is feasible and what is desirable to relate supply and demand, which involves considerations of scarcity and surplus which occur quite independently of production cost.

Economic value in capitalism is often expressed mainly only as some kind of price, a quantity of labour hours, as a trading ratio of some type, or as a type of subjective preference, but this does not mean at all that we "ought" to value things economically that way.

There are innumerable different ways to express the value of activities, products and assets (cf. the legal system), and it is a science in itself to determine how something ought best to be valued, so that it satisfies certain social and practical criteria. We have to look both at how people actually value things and how they should be valued.

There are Marxists who think you can transform economic relations, before you have transformed cultural relations, but you need to do both, and maybe cultural relations (about the meaning of people's lives) are even more important. You cannot change an economy if people do not also change their sense of priorities, their sense of what is important, if they are not convinced of what the new priorities should be. You have to be very realistic about what and how much you can change, within a given timeframe, given what we know about people. Most likely, the new economy will arise out of economic crisis and war, forcing the necessity of change upon people.

Our economic categories are insufficient for understanding the real economy. For example, the category "consumption" contains many different sorts of activities - access to a resource, the use of a resource, the physical transformation of a resource, the depletion of a resource and so on. The theoretical category of "consumption" is operationally rather useless.

A "feasible socialism" is a socialism which employs a variety of different property rights, and a variety of different market and non-market allocative methods, with the specific goal of promoting/maintaining a healthy socio-economic equality, maximising effective freedom and honouring social objectives beneficial to all citizens. You try to find something that makes practical sense and is ethical, and you try to create an environment within which people can experiment with that, in a healthy way.

Many of those different property rights, access rights and allocative methods already exist within capitalism, except that they are often rather insignificant and not very visible because they are not used much. For example, most people will use libraries at some point, but the amount of institutionally organised borrowing of other goods, other than money, is rather limited. It would also require a different attitude to property. Many internet services can be offered at a fairly minimal cost.

It makes sense to retain markets where markets are most efficient and effective. It makes no sense to replace markets by a non-market allocative mechanism if that is less efficient and effective, just because a Marxist says markets are morally bad on principle. It does make sense to use non-market allocative methods, if they are more efficient and effective.

In other words, an allocative method is not primarily chosen because it is intrinsically superior (insofar as you can prove that), but because it is proved most efficient and effective with respect to citizen's real goals and real needs. The goal is not socialism, the goal is healthy human development, and socialism is a means for healthy human development.

By analogy, when you go to the doctor because you are ill, you expect your doctor to use whatever methods are known to work best for you, in the most economical way, to help you get better, and your health is your goal. If your doctor insists on a particular method only because he says that is "his own favourite one" or because he earns the most money from it, you are likely to be skeptical.

Marxists often do not agree with this approach, but that is primarily because, as anarchists point out, they would like to be in charge of production and distribution, and get rewarded from the surplus or tribute paid by the direct producers. That kind of tributary idea has a very ancient lineage.

A feasible socialism cannot work, however, without open cooperation of the people. In true socialist or communist theory, the question of cooperation, not economic technique, is central. In Marxism, the debate is between markets and planning, but this is largely a meaningless and pointless debate.

So, assuming sufficient resources are available to make a life, the real challenges are not primarily economic, but whether you can get organisational cultures going where people are both self-acting and self-correcting as they work together, so that things end up working better all the time, while they also optimise considerations of freedom, equality and justice. This is the concept of "synergy" based on the compatibility or mutual reinforcement of one's self-interest and the general interest, through specific forms of organisation which seek to promote that.

This is importantly a question of how people are relating, and whether they are relating in a healthy and morally acceptable way. But it is also a question of power. Consequently, the socialist authorities must set certain mimimum parameters within which people can experiment with solving the problems of a society, which are consistent with the real requirements for socio-economic reproduction. But likewise, certain limits must be set on the socialist authorities, so that their power is limited to the function for which they are elected or appointed.

Just to summarise, there are I think really very few "economic" problems for a socialist economy in a technical sense, although Marxists emphasize this, because most of the technical solutions for different kinds of economic problems are already known and scientifically established already. (Of course, you also get plenty cranky ideas being mooted). The real problems are much more of a cultural, political, social and organisational type, i.e. they have to do with the bases for human association, cooperation and organisation - the kind of thing talked about in management theory, cultural anthropology and (in the case of Sam Bowles) game theory.

These are issues largely ignored by conventional economics and by Marxism (except a few writers) which just assume people will respond individually to price signals in a way which will get the best result, or else follow the Marxist-Leninist party's political line.


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Received on Sun Apr 5 05:53:22 2009

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