Thursday, June 7, 2012

A criticism of Marxist economics

I profess communism (not just socialism, unless it's transitional to communism): the system of total democracy in which the economy itself is controlled by the People and for the People in a society that is effectively of the People. No rhetoric here, just real and total democracy beyond the feudalist residue of private property.

But, even if I have left my most purely Anarchist ideas behind as unworkable and somewhat utopic and have embraced at least some aspects of Leninism (although I still profess strong respect for Kropotkin). My conflicts with Marx' economics are most important and have come to light recently in a number of debates, making myself to reconsider even if I should use the label "Marxist" at all when talking in first person or even at all. 

The issues are as follow:

Value: use vs. exchange value

Marx insists in using a virtual case or particular solution for the problem of value. He picks exchange value instead of use value as the real or at least practical measure of value. 

I understand that exchange value only exists in market conditions and is highly variable, being often unrelated to the actual practical worth of the good. For example food has a first quality use value (because we all need to eat regularly, demanding such good once and again), instead gold has almost no intrinsic worth, as its practical uses are very limited beyond exchange and hoarding in market conditions. 

For a self-proclaimed communist and scientist, Marx really disappoints by insisting not just in picking the exchange value above the use value, but also by reinforcing the bourgeois notion of gold and money (in his age still an extension of gold and silver) as commodities and not as what they really are: mere accountancy tokens. 

The only value I can accept, from a revolutionary viewpoint, is use value: things are worth the use we can make of them. 

I admit that this concept is slippery because it is strongly affected by subjectivity (although there are measures like caloric intake and in general energy fluxes which are pretty much objective, albeit also impractical for economic purposes) and that complex approximative measures must be undertaken to evaluate it. But I also understand that exchange value is no better: it is a mere approximation of bourgeois nature and does not capture well the real value, use value, of things.

Labor theory of value

The labor theory of value was first stated as such by Ricardo, a major bourgeois economist who had an undue influence in Marx. By reason of it, all value is claimed to be ultimately product of human work (not mechanical or animal, never mind untamed nature). This is so obviously wrong that I strive to understand why I should even discuss it.

Let's say that a lush and healthy fruit tree has grown naturally in a wild patch of land, never attended by human hand. For whichever reason I end up setting up camp, building my home just a few meters away from that wild tree, whose presence I can't but consider propitious, and, just beside it I plant some other fruit trees, which take a decade or more to grow, tended by my caring hands, with hundreds, maybe thousands of working hours invested in them. 

In due time I collect the fruits, the wild kind from the wild tree, where I just need a few minutes to grab them and bring them home (where by convention I realize their value as food) and the domestic kind from the planted trees, where I also need just a few minutes to collect the product but have hundreds of hours of previous work invested. Both tree types produce about the same amount of fruit and both fruit types are similar and give equivalent food in terms of calories and other nutrients. 

Which fruit is more valuable? Logically both are similar, so both are similarly worth, let's say equal to simplify. That according to use-value. However according to Marx' misconceptions the domestic kind of fruit is worth, say a month's salary, while the wild kind is worth almost nothing. 

How obviously wrong!

Of course, normally, human work can add (or subtract) worth, value, from a commodity, but this is far from being a universal law. 200 diggers with teaspoons do not produce more value in terms of ditches than a single one with a decent hoe and spade even if both work the same in terms of human effort and working hours. 

But crucially, and hence my first example, Nature's work is also most important but almost never accounted for. This is a bourgeois vice that got ol' good Karl as well.


These two are my major and fundamental complaints about Marx' economics.

Marx' economic theory still has some value. For example, in spite of all its vices, he was still able to make quite decent forecasts about his focus of work: Capitalist economy and society. He was able to forecast the inevitability of overproduction crisis, caused by the internal dialectic of Capital between cost-reduction and price-minimization, leading to the drop of profit towards zero.

Or he was also very much able to foresee as far as our social stage in his posthumous manuscripts, where he describes an advanced Capitalist society (real subsumption of labor into capital, alias Toyotism) that was not even imagined in his time - except by the genius of Trier.

For all the constituent vices of Marx' economics, it can still produce in the right hands, good results. But obviously, some 145 years later (and what 145 years of accelerated change!), we can't rely only on Marx, much less treat him as some sort of all-knowing God-inspired prophet, as so many do.

145 years after the publication of Capital, we need to move on and forge a genuine economic science that can effectively be a scientific tool to plan in a post-Capitalist era. 

I can't really outline it, we'd need more knowledgeable and dedicated people, but it's clear that it needs the following pillars:
  • Value = use value
  • An ecological theory of value in which human work is just a particular case in the perpetual transformation of things, sometimes into valuable commodities for the human taste
  • A physical theory of production in which the factual concept of transformation is emphasized over the misleading Promethean concept of production, which resembles that of creation and appears to disdain the raw materials and other resources destroyed in the process of production, or rather transformation.
My two cents, as is usually said.

This entry will be published as separate page for greater visibility but the discussion thread is here.

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