[OPE-L:1774] Re: hunger form theories

Subject: [OPE-L:1774] Re: hunger form theories
From: clyder (wpc@dcs.gla.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Nov 30 1999 - 07:26:13 EST

This is obviously peripheral to the main subject matter, but still has
some bearing insofar as it relates to the process of abstraction in the

> The further analogy you offer is, I'm afraid, even more unfortunate.
> Calorie levels have nothing at all to do with satiation of hunger. They
> measure energy content. All material things are directly commensurate in
> this respect, you simply have to burn them.

This seems to me a rather casual rejection of some of the most basic
discoveries of the science of nutrition.

Calorie content of foods, (provided that they are usable calories not
cellulose for example),
correlate very closely indeed with their ability to satisfy our hunger. This
is an
economic point of considerable importance for any economists involved
in the planning of food production under circumstances where rationing is
If you read the literature on food allocation policies during the 1940's the
criterion to be met in ensuring food supply to the population was always
count. Secondary goals were the allocation of proteins vitamins etc, but
calories come first when a population goes hungry.

Accounts of the famine in Holland in 1944-5 recount how people developed a
craving for butter - a high calorie food. When UN agencies are providing
food relief to children in famine areas, they supply porridge enriched with
vegetable oil, again to raise the calory content above that of pure

> Material things do not possess
> an 'abstract ability to satisfy hunger', just as a stone does not possess
> an 'abstract ability to break someone's head'. Things have properties or
> capacities but certainly not abstract abilities.

With these views I hope that Costas
is never given the responsibility for planning food allocation in a crisis.

> The problem lies, it seems to me, with your view of abstraction: Because
> you can appropriate something in thought that makes it abstract. In a
> trivial sense that is true but, if we are not to move rapidly toward
> idealism in social science, the abstraction must correspond with actual
> social processes, it must have social reality.

Energy, calories, abstract labour time are all abstractions. They
which correspond to something that is conserved under movement through
the space of possible configurations of a system under study.

The concept of energy is an abstraction capturing what is conserved in
the exchange between motion and height, light and electron orbital etc.

The concept of calories is an abstraction capturing wheat is conserved
in the exchange between quantities of bread and quantities of butter with
equal abilities to satisfy hunger.

The concept of abstract labour time captures what is conserved in the
between different points in the configuration space of an economy with a
fixed working population and working day. It also happens to be
conserved in commodity exchanges.

If we take the equation cited by Fred

S = m ( Lc - Ln)

This equations abstracts over numerous possible configurations of the
Given quantities Lc and Ln can be expressed in a variety of different
labours. A necessary labour time of 5 hours, can correspond to different
of consumption, in Britain more of that labour would be embodied in beer and
less in wine than in France. By abstracting from these concrete embodyments
we can have a theory that explains the magnitude of profit.

You say that the abstraction must correspond to actual social processes,
well, it does in that between countries and over time the distribution of
labour into different activities changes, but throughout this pocess, the
length of the total social working day and the number of hours of labour
required to produce wage goods act as a constraint on the magnitude of

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