Harvey on time

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Tue Dec 1 08:26:54 PST 1998

First just a note: in yesterday's WSJ, there was recognition of the problems Brenner has theorized--Marcus Brauchli "More Manufacturers Face Race to Survive As Cup Runs Over in the Industrial World", WSJ 11/30/98, p. A17

>I'm plunging through David Harvey's Justice, Nature, & the Geography of
>Difference. Very good stuff, I think.

Well, how about the old great Harvey stuff on time compression summarized in the new book, :

"Time is a vital magnitude under capitalism because social labor is the measure of value and surplus social labor time lies at the origin of profit. Furthermore, the turnover time of capital is significant because speed up (in production, in marketing, in capital turnover) is a powerful competitive menas for individual capitalists to augment profits. In times of economic crisis and of particularly intense competition, capitalist with a faster turnover time survive better than their rivals, with the result that social time horizons typically shorten, intensity of working and living tends to pick up, and the pace of change accelerates...Such [a] periodic revolution...in the objective quality of time...[is]not without [its] contradictions. It takes for example long term and often high cost fixed capital investments of slow turnover time (like computer hardware) to speed up the turnover time of the rest, and it takes the production of a specific set of social relations (like a rail network) in order to annihilate space by time." p. 241

It is this contradictory nature of time that seems quite difficult to grasp.

On the one hand, Harvey makes an implicit reference to the Austrian temporal conception of capital by invoking "long term" investments: putting aside the Cambridge critics, the Austrians reason that "in order to obtain consumable goods we first make tools and other preparations and then make use of them...tools and materials which embody such prepatory work are the vehicles which which convey the effect of work through time and pile it up with an added yield at the date of the emergence of good ready for consumption" or that "it is the intermediary of materials and tools, the capital goods, which allow time lapse to exert its virtue in making the forces of men and nature more efficacious"; in either view there is an intimate connection between time laspe and the material stepping stones to consumable goods. (G Shackle on Hayek)

Here we see the fetishism of time, the attribution to "time" itself as independent factor of production the surplus producing properties that derive from the social relations of exploitation.

At any rate, in Harvey's example, we would first make tools and transporation equipment and then make use of them, enabling at a later day over each of several periods the circulation and realization of a much greater physical sum of commodity value than if labor had been unmediated.

On the other hand, Harvey refers to the reduction in the time required to produce or realize any commodity unit through the use of this capital intensive infrastructure. So: Average production time gets longer via the addition of prepatory steps before labor finally produces or delivers the final product--production become more "capitalist"--and shorter in terms of the average time required to produce and realize each commodity as a result of labor's greater productivity, i.e., unit values decline?

What kind of contradiction is this? What is its significance?

Is this to say that "previous" indirect or dead labor gains on present "direct" or living labor while the total labor time, indirect and direct or dead and living, declines per unit?

Is it possible for the average period of production, assuming the dubious coherence of the concept, to begin to contract while the average labor time, direct and indirect, required to produce and realize a commodity unit begins to increase or at least not fall as steeply as it once did? Or is such "regression" just very *unlikely* in capitalist relations of production given competitive pressure to reduce unit values to maintain and gain market share?

Or is technological progress induced by dynamic capitalist competition such that roundaboutness can actually be reduced while unit values continue to fall? Is this what Prof Brenner means by a declining capital output ratio?

But if not regression vis a vis the continuous reduction of unit values what else is meant by the criticism of the short time horizon of the specifically Wall Street mode of capitalism? What is the relationship between time and capital, saving labor time and achieving technological progress?

Who understands Keynes' critique of Bohm Bawerk's temporal theory of capital and the Cambridge critique of the Austrians on the basis of such arcana as reswitching and the impossibility of reducing a heterogeneous collection of tools and materials in use at any moment to a scalar quantity in terms of an average lapse of time between productive activities and their consumable result? How did Hayek try to escape the difficulties here?

And then how does Harvey's analysis compare to Postone's dialectic of labor and time?

Why is all economy the economy of time?

yours, rakesh

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list