[OPE-L:5397] RE: Luxury goods and profit rate

Michael Williams (Michael@mwilliam.u-net.com)
Mon, 1 Sep 1997 05:29:49 -0700 (PDT)

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In OPE-L:5367, in conversation with Duncan, Ajit wrote (amongst much
> I, up till now, have not heard why the monetary measure of exploitation should be considered a
> superior measure of exploitation over this objective structural relation of the system.

Now the surrounding discussion about measuring exploitation seems to
me hardly to address this question at all. This because it is in a
effect a discussion about measuring the *outcome*, and only part of
the outcome, of exploitative capitalist social relations: that 'upper
classes' have superior access to more and better use-values than
'lower' classes. Clearly the careful investigation and quantification
of this systematic social scandal is an important task.

However, it does not address the systemic (structural, if you like)
causes of this 'use-value' exploitation. This is clear because what
is being proposed for measurement is only the specific manifestation
of a tranhistorical outcome, common to all exploitative societies. To
answer the question 'why?' we need to look at the social mechanisms
specific to the bourgeois epoch. This requires first that we deal
with an adequate characterisation of the class structure - in terms
of capital and labour determined by their position in the social
relations of capitalist commodity production and exchange, rather
than the vague and generic 'upper' and 'lower' classes defined in
terms of differential access to use-values. Something like this is, I
would assume, common ground to OPE-Lers. But it seems to have been
lost sight of in the current discussion.

Recognizing that what we seek are social and historically specific
explanatory mechanisms then indicates the grounds on which an answer
to Ajit's question might be posed. A Monetary measure of exploitation
(or, I would say more precisely, a value-form one), provides the
basis for an account of how specifically capitalist exploitation is
reproduced, in terms of the dominance of the value-form - and so
valorization, and so accumulation - over the allocation of societies
resources and the distribution of its products as commodities. This
can be developed in a number of ways - for example by investigation
of the systemic criteria by which the deployment of the surplus is
decided and redecided.

Then we can return to the characterisation of the outcome of
capitalist exploitation. Clearly it consists not only in relative
deprivation of useful objects, but also in the hollow promise of the
use-value form in which such objects are made available. Capitalism
apologists can point to the spread of increasing use-value
consumption possibilities to all but a diminishing lumpen
'underclass' (who are increasingly the sole target of New
Labours social policy rhetoric). However, typically as the
consumption possibilities previously available only to the 'upper'
classes have been massified, their substance has been radically
attenuated: the smoked salmon now widely available at relatively
affordable prices through UK supermarkets does not the have the same
'quality' as that that used to be flown down from Scotland to the
dinner tables of the rich and famous. It is farmed, injected,
infected and ecologically defective. OK, a trivial and 'middle-class'
example - but can we not say much the same about the increasingly
commodified form in which Higher Education has become 'massified'? is
it really the same product that was available only to a small elite
only 50 years ago? More generally, use-value deprivation is
compounded by by the alienation and fetishism concomitant on the
imperatives of the value-form.

Focus on use-value deprivation thus inhibits an understanding of the
reproduction of the antagonisms of capitalism - and can tend to
suggest the efficacy of mere redistributive tinkering in resolving
the problems of the bourgeois epoch.
"Books are Weapons"

Dr Michael Williams
Department of Economics Home:
School of Social Sciences 26 Glenwood Avenue
De Montfort University Southampton
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