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Not speaking to any particular point...
Babbage's 29 on the duration of machinery may be worth revisiting.
"Machinery for producing any commodity in great demand, seldom actually
wears out; new improvements, by which the same operation can be executed
either more quickly or better, generally superceding it long before that
period arrives: indeed to make such an improved machine profitable,it is
usually reckoned that in five years it ought to have paid for itself, and
in ten to be superceded by a better."
Babbage also gives as evidence of the impact of rapid ongoing technological
improvements the decision to abandon the construction of unfinished
machines 'because new improvements had superceded their utility.'
Babbage also makes the point that when mfg articles are transported a great
distance, it is not uncommon for broken articles to be deemed unworthy of
the cost of repair if the price of labor is higher than in its original
place of mfg.
With the present controversy over hedonic price indices, one is reminded of
Babbage's point that:
"It has been estimated roughly, that the first individual of any newly
invented machine, will cost about 5x as much as the construction of the
second, and estimate, which is perhaps sufficiently near the truth. If the
second machine is to be precisely like the first, the same drawings, and
the same patters will answer for it; but if, as usually happens some
improvements have been suggested by the experience of the first, these must
be more or less altered. When however 2 or 3 machines have been completed,
and many more are wanted, they can usually be produced at much less than
1/5th (!!!) of the expense of the original invention." (p.266)
See Nathan Rosenberg "Babbage in a Complex World"
Marx assimilates all these insights, as John Ernst has often noted.
The influence of Babbage on Marx can of course be traced all the way back
to chapter on the metaphysics of political economy in the Poverty of
Philosophy. Babbage is clearly assimilated (and critqued) in chs 14 and 15
of Capital 1.
While Tony S and Ilyenkov may well have shown the importance of Hegel in
Marx's theory of concept formation, it seems to me that Babbage, Richard
Jones and Aristotle are presently the great unacknowledged influences on
Marx (Geoffrey Kay has recently reminded us that Marx was the first to
complete a translation of De Anima into German, which suggests that I may
be right about the centrality of the form/matter and potentiae/actuality
couplets in Marx's thinking).
I have yet to read a work on Marx's theory which pays careful attention to
these 3 thinkers, though WC Mitchell and Grossmann recognized the
importance of Jones whom Lionel Robbins so loudly repudiated.
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