[OPE] In the USA it's official: consumers are workers (human beings with jobs)

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Wed Dec 10 2008 - 19:41:34 EST


What I was really referring to is that workers - living, breathing human beings - disappear from official economic thought. They are only a "factor of production", a "labour input" or a "consumer". They resurface only in the context of management theory (where the concern is "how to get people to do what I want so that it benefits the company").

In this sense, economics can be effectively a source of dehumanization, as pointed out sometimes these days by certain Wesleyan economists, like Kenneth Boulding (Hilary Clinton is sort of Wesleyan too). When Marc Linder http://www.law.uiowa.edu/faculty/marc-linder.php has "people before profits" on his T-shirt, he is referring to same.

Boulding writes: "We are still, like Isaac Newton, only a boy playing on the seashore, and the great ocean of Truth still lies all undiscovered before us. That undiscovered ocean is Man himself. What we discover about him, I hope, will be for his healing. I did not become an economist for anybody's applause; I became an economist because I thought there was an intellectual task ahead, of desperate importance for the welfare and even the survival of mankind." http://www.compilerpress.atfreeweb.com/Anno%20Boulding%20The%20Economics%20of%20Knowledge%20and%20the%20Knowledge%20of%20Economics%20AER%201966.htm Most economists these days don't have that motivation, they just want to grab wealth - though there are also some good ones.

I have nothing against consumer research, it's often healthy, but what struck me was, both that we have to find out from "consumer research" that US workers are scared, and that the conclusion of this was, that this presented a problem for retailers (!). It's like, whose point of view is being taken? It's a reification, if you ask me, you might as well be talking about the feeding schedule of dogs or rats in Skinner boxes.

I don't ruminate much about the failures of the Left, because I want to focus on success. I look at this person or group who's been really successful, and I think jeez how did she or they do that? What's really behind it? And I try to learn something. A lot of these leftists never learn anything, they just testify (bear witness).

To be successful, you have to be able to distinguish appropriately and objectively between success and failure, and not pretend that a failure was a success, or vice versa. I have this on authority from Mr Barack Obama.

A lot of the American Left is very hung up about a tradition and its language, it's a kind of unctious religious, conservative thing, a sort of ritual like the rainmaker who makes rain, if you believe it. The Russian revolution, and all that. Well if you really want to know about that, and think it is relevant to the USA today, go to Russia, and find out what people are really thinking! And you get these people who like to flaggelate themselves about the failures of the Left. It's a loser's gambit, a sort of sad play.

There are few Marxian theorists who have theorized the sphere of consumption in the spirit of Marx's Capital, even although we are supposed to live in a consumer society. With Greenism you get a sort of moralism about what people ought to be consuming, but it does not go much further than that, mostly.

See however for instance Robert Albritton, "Theorizing the realm of consumption in Marxian Political Economy", in Albritton/Sekine, A Japanese Approach to Political Economy, for some possible ideas. I am not an Uno scholar myself, but I wouldn't deny that there are very important insights to be had from that intellectual tradition. Ben Fine has also written on this ("The world of consumption").

Another interesting article you might consider, is M. Chisholm, "The increasing separation of production and consumption", in B.L. Turner et al, (eds) The Earth as transformed by human action (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 353-369.

"To the extent that the labour-process is solely a process between man and Nature, its simple elements remain common to all social forms of development. But each specific historical form of this process further develops its material foundations and social forms. Whenever a certain stage of maturity has been reached, the specific historical form is discarded and makes way for a higher one. The moment of arrival of such a crisis is disclosed by the depth and breadth attained by the contradictions and antagonisms between the distribution relations, and thus the specific historical form of their corresponding production relations, on the one hand, and the productive forces, the production powers and the development of their agencies, on the other hand. A conflict then ensues between the material development of production and its social form." http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch51.htm

This is a more nuanced repeat of the 1859 Preface idea, rarely noticed by Marxists, but significantly it leaves out the relations of consumption. Could it be, perhaps, Marx's male bias, as feminists claim? Marx did think that the mode of production determines the mode of consumption, but he fails to analyse the human or economic meaning of all this in depth, i.e. how the mode of consumption is adapted to the mode of production, and the kinds of dialectics that propel this process. We ought to do so.


Well I know what's right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin' me around
But I'll stand my ground
And I wont back down
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won't back down
No, I won't back down

- Tom Petty, "Won't back down"

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