Exploitation and all that...

Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters quilty at philos.umass.edu
Sun Nov 13 11:44:24 MST 1994

The prolific Justin Schwartz again:
*} Let's set the tone stuff aside. If I have been arrogant and condescending
*} I apologize.

Sounds good.  I'd rather talk about Marxist theory than quibble over
he-said she-said stuff.

*} You and Peter in the following post both note that in my account of
*} exploitation as forced surplus transfer, we do not have a general,
*} society-wide measure of the rate of exploitation (quantity of surplus
*} transfer) absent a notion of socially necessary labor time, which can only
*} apply in a generalized commodity economy.

As I think about it, I think the example I used really is central to
why my intuition goes against the meaningfulness of using
exploitation as a quantitative comparison of direct labor-hours.  To
me it just seems a bit absurd to think that I might be exploited if
I "buy American", but not exploited if I buy Guatamalan.  That is,
buying low-wage-produced goods thereby has me consume more
(incorporated) labor-hours.  As far as I can see, this Schwartzian
notion of exploitation just cannot avoid the conclusion that
exploitation is largely determined by consumer choices (especially
between material (near-)identical items).

As the analytic philosophers would say, one choice Schwartz has is
just to "bite the bullet" (dunno why they always seem to like that
metaphor).  That is Schwartz could say, "Although the conclusion
above seems counterintuitive, it is a consequence worth living with
for a theory of exploitation which is better in these other respects
(allows one to understand more exploitative situations, etc)!" On
the other hand, Schwartz could point out reasons to convince my
intuitions that consumer choices really do determine exploitation.
Or thirdly, he could point out why I have misunderstood the
consequences of direct labor-time calculation of exploitation.  I
suppose the fourth possibility is just to ignore the question :-).

*} If my reading is "heterodox," I don't see that as a criticism, but I also
*} doubt whether it is heterodox. Mandel and I both got the idea that labor
*} time is (a) measure of exploitation in all social circumstances from Marx,
*} whom I quoted on this a few posts back. I don't see "orthodoxy" as a
*} virtue, although scholarship is valuable to know what Marx said.

I didn't mean 'heterodox' as a criticism.  More heterodox ideas are
correct than are orthodox ones IMO (which is btw. equivalent to: "most
common beliefs are wrong" ;)).  My point was just that Schwartz
cannot assume readers to share his reading of 'productive' off the
bat.  Perhaps we could be convinced of it, but a certain note need
be made that the Schwartzian 'productive' goes along with the
Schwartzian 'exploitation' (though such a note *was* basically

Yours, Lulu...

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