boddhisatva kbevans at panix.com
Thu Dec 17 02:41:54 PST 1998

C. Rakesh,

First, I'm not sure that it's right to include the concept of surplus value in an analysis of the OCC the way you do. The concept of surplus value and OCC are very tightly linked and I think they have to be proven separately. As to your first point, even if the economy is effectively carrying more capital, so what? That seems very natural and entirely unconnected with the need for more profit, per se, and instead explained by the need for more use-value. At some point luxuries even begin to creep into the equation. That which people view as a luxury has less effective demand. If Furbies don't catch on, that investment is wasted and nobody cares. That capital becomes excess but then it was only intended to produce things that might be called excess to begin with. Yet you can't call the capital wasted on a toy that doesn't catch on the product of capitalists trying to wring more profit out of existing industrial processes. Again, I think any modern industrial society will start carrying around more capital and that is a good thing.

"Premature" adoption of processes surely happens but then this is the nature of life. No one can read tomorrow's paper today and know what will catch on and it is not reasonable to posit that planning can do away with that effect. Furthermore, I'm not at all sure it's reasonable to characterize a capitalist economy, where innovators wait like begging dogs at the feet of the capitalist for him to throw some scraps of investment money, to be madly adopting technology before its time. The image of capitalism adopting innovation full tilt without regard to its value runs counter to what I know about venture capital. Obviously excessive economic power breeds excess, but I think the problem is not people who are in a rush to scour the earth for profit but capitalists who squander untold sums to satisfy their egos. Frankly I'm not sure but what "cutthroat competition" is mostly a capitalist myth.

When capitalist are milking an industry for more profit, one of the first things they do is try to cut down the amount of capital equipment. A good example of this and of the way capitalists are uneconomically slow to innovate, is the idea of the stamped metal or what became the "unibody" car frame. Citroen adopted it in the '30's but Detroit took far, far longer and for no reason I can see. It saves immense amounts of steel and capital to work on frames and is the industry standard now (putting many parts of the steel industry to pasture in favor of rolled steel producers). Then we can talk about plastic. Plastic has probably saved more capital equipment than any single innovation - all that routing, grinding, forging and coating of other materials replaced by injection molders and stampers. Plastic has come to replace metal in nearly every thin sheet application. That means no more mining, smelting, rolling, cutting - if processes have become more roundabout it may be a product of freedom from capital costs. Industry has the luxury of screwing around.

Finally, when we are talking about what is now referred to as the "maturing" of industries - the replacement of old, labor intensive (and capital intensive) methods with new - why should we think that process will or should abate with socialism. I hope it doesn't. In fact, I hope it increases. I think the labor value calculus is flawed. Producing a machine is far different than producing a good because the machine produces goods. It is not consumed and frees labor for other things - that is an unalloyed positive. I think what you finally argue sounds right except that the idea of surplus value is superfluous in your conclusion. What you're really talking about is a higher degree of investment, a higher degree of innovation (maybe even competition, certainly among technologies) and a larger stock of capital goods. If that is bad for capitalism, why is it good for socialism? (and it is).

I think you are sacrificing a great deal to fit surplus value in there. The real question is who decides how to invest, on what basis and how that investment is rationalized to the needs of the community. I don't think capitalism is taking something called surplus value because I don't think a lack of it can be demonstrated. I don't think the quest for the chimerical surplus value induces capitalists to innovate and invest, but that it is rare glimmers of good sense and rare bursts of energy among an otherwise complacent class. What capitalism does take away is the ability of working people to make their own economic decisions and that is the intrinsic inefficiency.


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