[OPE] economics is not natural science

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Sun Sep 06 2009 - 06:28:36 EDT

Seems to me that, if you agree with Marx & Engels's historical materialism,
according to which the social order of human life is held together not by
the spontaneous tendency of trading activity (exchange) by atomized
individuals to move towards market equilibrium, but rather by the physical
necessity of humans to consume, produce and reproduce the conditions of
material life with work effort, and, therefore, by the co-operative social
relations of production, distribution and consumption which are essential
for this, then economic life must be subject to, or influenced by, natural
laws, including laws of biology and demographic laws. Any "materialism"
which ignored the evolutionary biophysical basis of human life would surely
not be a very credible materialism, as for instance Sebastian Timpenaro
points out in his "On Materialism".

I don't think Marx & Engels denied this at all, their criticism was just
that, in bourgeois ideology, laws or lawlike regularities arising out of the
historically specific social existence of human beings are represented as
general natural laws, which, being natural laws, are unchangeable and
eternal: "social laws" become "natural laws", which naturalize and
eternalize the bourgeois social order as the most "natural" expression of
human nature, with the effect, that specifically bourgeois principles are
projected backwards in time on all previous societies, and also forwards
into the future, such that bourgeois civil society is both the "beginning of
modernity" and "the end of history".

A good illustration is provided in one of Marx's first attempts to specify
the law of the rising organic composition of capital and the law of surplus
population, in 1847:

"It is, therefore, a general law which necessarily arises from the nature of
the relation between capital and labour that, in the course of the growth of
the productive forces, the part of productive capital which is transformed
into machinery and raw material, i. e., capital as such, increases in
disproportion to the part which is intended for wages; i.e., in other words,
the workers must share among themselves an ever smaller part of the
productive capital in relation to its total mass. Their competition,
therefore, becomes more and more violent. In other words: the more
productive capital grows, the more, in proportion, the means of employment
and the means of subsistence for the workers are reduced, and the more
rapidly, in other words, the working population grows in proportion to its
means of employment. And this increases in the same measure in which the
productive capital as a whole grows. To compensate the above disproportion
[productive capital] must be enlarged in geometrical proportion, and in
order afterwards, in a time of crisis, to readjust it, it is enlarged still
more. This law, which arises simply from the relation of the worker to
capital, and which turns even the condition most favourable for him, the
rapid growth of productive capital, into an unfavourable one, the bourgeois
have changed from a social law into a law of nature by saying that, by a law
of nature, the population grows more rapidly than the means of employment or
the means of subsistence. (...) The above theory, however, which is also
expressed as a law of nature, that population grows faster than the means of
subsistence, is the more welcome to the bourgeois as it silences his
conscience, makes hard-heartedness into a moral duty and the consequences of
society into the consequences of nature, and finally gives him the
opportunity to watch the destruction of the proletariat by starvation as
calmly as other natural event without bestirring himself, and, on the other
hand, to regard the misery of the proletariat as its own fault and to punish
it. To be sure, the proletarian can restrain his natural instinct by reason,
and so, by moral supervision, halt the law of nature in its injurious course
of development." http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/12/31.htm

The implication is that any criticism of the benefits of developing
commercial business is deflected by attributing its intrinsic social
contradictions to natural laws, in this case, population laws. But obviously
this does not mean that social laws and natural laws do not exist, and that
they do not interact, only that an ideology of natural causation replaces
social causation.

The important thing to understand there is that the bourgeois elite really
thinks along these lines; as I pointed out on OPE-L on 24 May 2009
http://ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu/~cottrell/ope/archive/0905/0229.html , "Some of
America's leading billionaires have met secretly to consider how their
wealth could be used to slow the growth of the world's population and speed
up improvements in health and education."


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