Comment 28586

By LL (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2009 at 18:48:10

Re: Universal public goods.

The welfare state didn't fall out of the sky on some stone tablets. It was the elite response to class conflict. Nor is it being dismantled randomly. This is part of pressures exerted in the global capitalist system as a whole. I agree with you broadly that we need to struggle for a new concept of public good. But it might be something different (I would argue decentralized and directly democratic) than the welfare state. On that score, we need strong, coherent analysis and a clear, specific explanation of what fairness, justice, and feedom are. The narrow sector of humanity who control capitalism and the state think it's "fair" that they be able to keep all their loot. And they've drummed their story into the populace for decades.

"Value seems to inhere more in knowledge and technique than in labour or raw materials per se."

I already responded to that on another post, where you claimed value was derived from "knowledge embedded in labour". I'll reprint it here:

"I'm rather unclear on what you mean by "knowledge embedded in labour". Is "embedded knowledge" knowledge that has been created in the past? If so, let us assume that it was created through thinking, reading, experimenting, researching, tinkering, teaching, writing, etc. Are these activities not forms of work? If so, and if they contribute to profit and capital accumulation, are they not just a specific form exploited labour? I'm a little rusty on labour theory these days. But I know the marxist tradition has had a lot to say about intellectual work... [K]nowledge, as far as the property system is concerned, is essentially a form of CAPITAL. Like any form of capital, living where knowledge has accumulated to a great degree allows even working class people to have a higher standard of living. But that goes for any form of capital. It's the basic reason why a coffee farmer in Ethiopia works a lot harder than a steel worker in Hamilton, but makes less money."

"Consider that average North American productivity has increased by a factor of 15 since 1870. People certainly don't work 15 times as hard today as then - probably the opposite is true. Similarly, there certainly isn't 15 times as much raw material as then."

Part of this increase in productivity is indeed explained by the accumulation of knowledge/capital, which, I stress again, is the product of intellectual labour. But another part of it is explained by the accumulation of material/capital - machines and the money to buy them. Marx covers the second aspect very thoroughly in "Capital". As for raw materials, I think it's fair to assume that capitalism is exploiting resources at a faster rate than it was in 1870. Even if it is exploiting less materials per capita (hence with greater productivity), again, it's important to remember that the accumulation of capital is partly responsible for the greater productivity. As a systems theorist, you should know that capital embodies a lot of EMBEDDED ENERGY (emergy), most of which originates with the sun and becomes available to us after plants have captured it through photosynthesis. That includes fossil fuels, which basically consist of solar energy embedded in the remnants of dead organisms.

To me, this indicates a natural source of economic value, created by the "work" of ecosystems. Nevertheless, the debate over economic value is still mostly between proponents of the labour theory and the proponents of marginal utility. Knowledge on its own can no more produce value than masturbation can produce a child. It's the creation, use, implementation, codification, and dissemination of knowledge that creates value. These activities are surely forms of work. I would argue that what you have here is an important DIMENSION of the labour theory of value. Sure, knowledge/capital exists in the public domain and is a source of wealth. That's a very relevant argument for equality. But physical capital - the means of production - are an embodiment of the surplus value of workers. It also ought to be in the public domain, democratically controlled by the workers themselves.

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