[OPE-L:6482] [PAUL C] Re: Obsolesence

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 21 Apr 1998 04:49:24 -0400 (EDT)

Date: Tue, 21 Apr 1998 09:20:51 +0100
From: Paul Cockshott <wpc@faraday.org>

John R. Ernst wrote:

> Do capitalists waste resources as they abandon fixed capital
> when it is no longer profitable and not physically worn out?
> Maybe the answer to this question is obvious. But it hasn't
> been to me and, as I recall, to others on the list.Using it, workers
> can still generate surplus value. Indeed, they
> can do so until the price of the output drops below $6000 with
> the assumed input prices or until the machine is physically worn
> out. If the fixed capital is abandoned at the end of 6 years but
> can produce surplus value for 12 years, then half of the labor
> time that produced the fixed capital is, from a rational standpoint,
> wasted. That we often fail to take this into account simply
> shows that capitalist obsolescence is so ingrained that it
> seems natural.
> Given fixed capital is rendered economically obsolete prior to
> its becoming incapable of generating any surplus value, capitalist
> society wastes a certain percentage of the labor that goes into
> the production of fixed capital. That percentage depends on the
> the difference between the economic life of fixed capital as defined
> in capitalism and the life of fixed capital in a rational society.

What evidence do you have that firms actually abandon equipment
that could continue to be used profitably?

I would think, from what is an admitedly limited basis
- my membership
of the Scottish Industrial Heritage society,
that on the contrary they are very thrifty and will
go on using machinery far longer than you might
believe possible. Mules were still in use in the British textile
industry in the 50s and 60s, of this century
even though the invention of the ring spindle made
them obsolete at the end of the 19th century.
I have seen sleek black submarines being fitted out in
dry docks that dated from the 1790s.
I have seen a Watt beam engine that continued in use
as a colliery winding engine until the the mid 1950s.
The aluminium smelter at Kinlochleven is still working
( for Alcan) with a hydro electric plant installed in 1911 which
uses Peltier wheels driving DC generators at about 20 volts.
If it works, dont fix it!