[OPE-L:5281] Wild Corn, guano, gold, lost treasure, meteors

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 17 Jun 1997 09:08:01 -0700 (PDT)

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Andrew K: I think that your decision to use "wild corn" as an input as
means of production in your circulating-capital illustration raises a
number of issues.

1) Replacement vs. Reproduction Costs Debates

"Wild corn" is not produced as a commodity under conditions of
capitalist production. Given the subject being discussed (I won't say
"level of abstraction" here since I know you don't like that expression),
what is the purpose of introducing a "non-produced" input as means of

However, since you raised the topic, I will discuss other related
questions (to which you might answer "huh?").

2) The corn question

In [5212], you say "corn is corn is corn."

Legitimate as a simplifying assumption (perhaps), but you must not eat
corn to have come to that belief. There are, in fact, many different
varieties and qualities of corn (both "wild" and "cultivated"). Just as
there are many different varieties of rice (I remember reading that
there are *thousands* of genetically-different varieties of rice in
Southeast Asia alone. This fact, btw, had some importance in the failure
of the "Green Revolution" and also, led, in Vietnam, to the creation of a
"bank" that houses samples of these many thousands of varieties).

btw, a rose is not a rose is not a rose either. :-)

3) Guano, lost treasure, and meteors

a) For millennia, birds have deposited guano which is rich in potassium and
other valuable chemicals. Indeed, the "guano trade" was important in the
19th century when guano capitalists kidnapped native people from a number
of islands in the South Pacific to work, and frequently die, on the "guano
mines" in islands off the coast of Chile. The guano, like the "wild
corn", required human labor to mine and ship. Could *nature* and the
*birds* be said, however, to contribute to the creation of value in this

b) Ships carrying gold or other commodities with value sometimes sink in
passage. What becomes of the value that was lost in transit? What becomes
of the value if it is again discovered (let's say washed up on a deserted
island requiring little labor to collect)?

c) suppose a meteor rich with uranium and other valuable minerals, quite
literally, drops from the sky. Does value drop from the sky, created by
nature, in the process?

D. Gold

a) at least some percentage of the world's supply of gold was produced in
pre-capitalist social formations (and, then, frequently stolen during the
process of the "original accumulation of capital"). Would the value of
that gold be measured at reproduction costs or replacement costs?

b) In the 19th Century and before, and continuing to a lesser degree
today, gold was mined not by wage-labourers but by petty commodity
producers (e.g. frequently during the "gold rush" in California and
Alaska). How is the labour input measured in these circumstances?
Shouldn't we consider *rent* here in terms of the differential
productivity of land holdings?

c) Suppose nuggets of gold are discovered on the surface of Antarctica
(which, btw, is not private property) and that the only labor required is
that someone bend their back and pick the nuggets up and then transport
the nuggets to the market. Wouldn't that de-value to some degree the
gold currently being produced in capitalist-directed gold mines?

Any takers?

In solidarity, Jerry

PS: I'll be leaving Thursday for 2 - 2 1/2 weeks by the shore in
Connecticut. If anyone needs any assistance, please contact me before
Thursday. The TMIR for June may be a few days late.