[OPE-L:1425] Smith Marx and matter and speculation

Paul Cockshott (wpc@dcs.gla.ac.uk)
Wed, 06 Oct 1999 10:31:24 +0100

At 18:47 05/10/99 -0300, you wrote:

>Paul Cockshott:
> > I think we have to be clear what we mean by the accumulation of value,
> > I suspect that you identify this with the accumulation of money in bank
> > accounts. I would identify it with the accumulation of commodities,
> > gold money but excluding credit money. As such, this accumulation is
> > always a physical accumulation, though denominated in terms of the labour
> > required to produce it.
>Claus: I understand that you are not talking strictly about Smith's
>interpretation. In terms of Marx's theory, money being the *abstract form
>of value*, i.e., representing value independent from its natural form, the
>way has been opened for accumulation to proceed in its abstract or general
>form. Thus, the advent of money has liberated the process of accumulation
>of wealth from the need to accumulate it in its varied natural forms.
>Hence, in capitalism the accumulation of wealth cannot be thought of as
>restricted by the physical form of the use values produced by capital.

In the discussions on money that you refer to Marx is assuming that money
is made of gold or silver. These are very definitely material and have high
labour inputs.

What is at stake here is very important, it is our ability to distinguish
the real
material process going on from its ideological representation. Once credit
becomes dominant a whole series of fetishistic or illusory relations are
into existence. It seems to me that when you write 'the advent of money
has liberated the process of accumulation
of wealth from the need to accumulate it in its varied natural forms' you
are falling
prey to the speculators fallacy. This consists in confusing value with the
price assigned to property titles.

During periods of stock market boom like the present one in the US it can
that wealth is accumulating in step with burgeoning share prices.
Entrepreneurs who
float Internet companies become billionaires overnight, but their wealth
and capital
are not real. True, their stocks multiplied by the prices of these stocks
make them
multimillionaires, and, potentially, the sale of these stocks would enable
them to
buy gold or other assets which have value in the sense of embodied labour.
But this
would be only a redistribution of the titles to gold and Internet
companies. The
titles to Internet companies do not consititute capital. They represent
claims on
capital. Their prices can rise or fall quite independently of changes in
value, as
the promoters of the UK internet firm Freeserve found to their cost last

Bank account entries are similarly not value or wealth but titles to such
It is one of the properties of the banking system as a whole that it has an
unlimited ability to create such titles. Such accumulation of titles is
refered to in
orthodox economics as the money supply, but no orthodox economist involved
in the preparation of national income accounts would be so innocent at to
the money supply as part of the capital stock of a nation. That capital stock
has to take the form of stocks of commodities, either means of production
for constant capital, or stocks of consumption goods.

>If it were true that *capital can only accumulate as forms of matter*,
>there could not be capital in sectors that produce some of the so called
>services, f.i. teaching in private schools, transportation, etc.

Private schools require buildings, transportation requires railway tracks
trucks etc. I dont see anything very spiritual about these entities.

>Considering that capital is not a thing, but designates the relation
>between dead labor (i.e. means of production used to extract living labor)
>and living labor, accumulating capital means accumulating that relation,
>which occurs within the so called sphere of production, where productive
>capital resides (i.e. means of production and living labor).

No you are being imprecise here. Capital accumulation can occur
without an extension of the capital labour relation, though such
accumulation causes economic contradictions.

At an accounting level, an accumulation of capital involves and accumulation
of stocks of commodities evaluated in terms of the labour required currently
to produce them. As such there is an accumulation of the currently embodied
quantity of dead labour.

Historically speaking the process of capital accumulation has been associated
with the extension of the waged population, and thus with the extension of
capital labour relation, but this just one historical phase of capital
It occurs in those nations that have either or both of, a rising
a latent reserve army of labour in the form of peasants. When these
are no longer met, capital accumulation can continue by raising the organic
composition of capital.

This process enters into conflict with the fixed population base available
exploitation and results in a falling rate of profit.

>productive capital produces is unpaid labor, which is realised with the
>sale of the commodity produced, be the later material or immaterial, long
>lasting or consumed at the moment of its performance. The producer doesn't
>have to care about what happens to the commodity he produces, because what
>he receives is the unpaid labor contained in the commodity sold in the form
>of abstract wealth, i.e. value, i.e. money.

You are explicitly falling prey to the illusions of competition here, by
taking the
standpoint of the individual capitalist. This is and always has been the mark
of vulgar political economy.

>On the other hand, accumulation of banking accounts from the point of view
>of capital - which is the correct one for the scientific understanding - is
>neither acumulation nor hoarding, it is either loan capital as such or it
>represents the inevitable reserves of money capital that appear along the
>process of reproduction of industrial capital which the banking system
>redistributes to other capitalists. It is temporarily loan capital. Thus
>the banking system is precisely the one that prevents money capital from
>being sterelized as hoarding.

What do you mean by prevents money capital being sterilized as hoarding?
What is your objective index of hoarding?
The only sensible measure of an increase in hoarding would be a rise in
the ratio of M1 money to current national income, and there is nothing in
the banking system to prevent this from happening, it is indeed a
feature of the onset of a recession., for which attempts at 'hoarding' are
a proximate cause.

>Accumulation of money or forms of credit
>money cannot be termed accumulation,

This contradicts you initial thesis about money freeing accumulation from
its need to take material form.

>they only represent moments of the
>accumulation of capital.
>Thus, accumulation of value in capitalism is neither accumulation of
>use-values nor accumulation of money, whatever its form.

No it is an accumulation of commodities measured in terms of their
values, i.e. their labour content. But commodities have to have a material
use value to exist, so that all capital accumulation entails as a necessary
though not sufficient precondition an accumulation of use values.

> > I dont think that this is right. I think that the labour that goes into
> > education
> > is productive of surplus value in the economy as a whole by virtue of its
> > effect
> > in raising labour productivity in the economy as a whole. This effect is
> > present
> > whether or not the teaching is done by state or private schools.
>Couldn't you say, by the same token, that improved machines are productive
>because they raise the productivity of labour in terms of surplus value
>while they are of restricted use in each sector?

There is no question that machines can be productive, this is perfectly

>The work of the preacher
>who convinces the workers that the more they suffer, the more they approach
>heaven, would be productive as well, because it enhances the efforts of the

If it were the case that the primary function of religious instruction
increase the labour output of the congregation and if the increase in
the labour output of the congregation exceeded the labour time devoted
to the priestly caste, the associated means of religious indoctrination
etc, then, such work would be productive. But this is an empirical matter
and would depend upon the types of doctrines taught, one would have
to concretely examine different cults and see whether they did contribute
to material production. My guess would be that such contributions have
been the exception rather than the rule.

>The work of the merchant, whose activity reduces the circulation
>time of capital would also be productive, and so on.

No, a reduction in circulation time does not result in an increase
in the surplus product, only a reduction in the ratio between the
capital stock and the surplus product.

>Restricting your
>statement to the *economy as a whole*, i.e., not with reference to an
>individual capital, reflection may show us that capital organizes the
>social system as a whole in the way to best fit its objetive - to
>accumulate -, and in this sense we would find that every activity could be
>considered productive.

No, there are activities - whether Smiths menial servants or his lawyers
and soldiers
which contribute nothing to production at the level of the economy as a

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.0b3 on Mon Jan 03 2000 - 12:18:30 EST