From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Wed Feb 21 2007 - 04:58:49 EST
Jerrry wrote: ------------- Clean air (in the atmosphere, as distinct from manufactured oxygen) does not have value but may come to be _valued_. How can we grasp the _valuation_ of nature under capitalism using Marxian conceptions? [In mainstream theory, there is the concept of external costs.] How could one, for instance, calculate the _value_ of clean air from a Marxian perspective? By the costs in terms of LP and MP in terms of _cleaning_ the air? But, how does one know or estimate before the fact what those costs in the future will be? And wouldn't the value of clean air from the perspective of capital and the state be different from the 'value' of clean air from a working- class perspective? [Recalling Mike L's emphasis that social issues should not be one-sidedly looked at from the standpoint of capital. Nor should they be looked at only from the general standpoint of humanity. They need, as Mitch Cohen emphasized, to be looked at holistically. But has this been done? How could it be done?] Paul C ------- I think that in proposing to put a valuation onto clean air or any other aspect of nature you could be drifting into what Foley is calling Adam's fallacy: the idea that by applying a price to things and optimizing on that one ends up in the best of all possible worlds. Prices and values come into existence and work because there is an underlying quantity - human labour - that can be redeployed between activities. Otherwise the huge dimension reduction involved would be irrational. Even within capitalist production the information content of an input output table for the whole economy is is many many times greater than the information content of the final set of prices. It is only possible for price to function at all because in the long run any adjustment in demand for intermediate products works out to a re-adjustment in the allocation of labour between branches of production. If you attempt to apply the same logic to eco-systems it does not work. There is no equivalent of labour that can be redeployed by nature between branches of the eco-system. There are flows of energy between trophic levels, and there is a gross input of energy into the sytem potentially available for photosynthesis. If one removes one predator from a given trophic level, then to a certain extent other predators may step in to use that energy, so one might be tempted to equate the flow of food energy between levels with labour, but this would be invalid. 1. The adjustment time required is so much longer in nature because evolutionary adaptation of the species is required. In Nova Scotia for instance there is evidence that the lynx is beginning to attempt to occupy the niche previously occupied by the wolf and prey on deer, but this predation will be much less effective until evolutionary pressure causes the size of the lynx to grow and enable it to tackle adult deer. 2. There exist complex feebacks in nature which may mean that removing a predator causes herbivore populations to explode leading to a degraded flora and reduced total photosynthetic energy flow. Attempts to apply valuations to nature are a projection of capitalist social relations onto a domain on which they do not apply. Rather than using prices to regulate relations with nature it is probably better to use absolute quantitative controls. For instance a socialist economy should fix absolute Plan targets for the use of carbon fuels which tend to zero over a short timescale and then use constraint based programming techniques to derive i/o matrices that are compatible with this.
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