Chaos, simple relations in complex ecosystems

glevy at glevy at
Mon Aug 28 16:02:10 MDT 1995

Lisa wrote:

> I don't see where Capital V1ch25 addresses population size at all.

In part, the section in Ch. 25, Vol 1 on relative surplus population and
relative overpopulation was intended as a counter to Mathus's theory of
absolute overpopulation. In Ch. 25, the relative surplus population is
brought on by increases in the organic composition of capital. Malthus
attempted to give natural, eternal and absolute meaning to
overpopulation; Marx attempted to give social, historical and relative
meaning to the term.
> As for exponential growth, it is not only true for bacteria, but for
> other species.  When mortality is limited to old age, all
> physiological needs are provided free and plentiful, and there is low
> but not too low pop. density, population levels shoot up
> exponentially.  This applies to both predator species and prey
> species, which links their populations together, in specific ways
> which are reproduced [at least in part] by the predator/prey math
> model.

Exponential growth for bacteria is one thing, exponential growth for the
human species is quite different. To start with, population changes in
the human species are more affected by social organization and
institutions -- and all that goes with these characteristics. Also, human
beings have a talent for doing something that other species don't have
the same talent for -- increasing, through their minds and actions, the
social productivity of labor. Thus, for instance, if human population
grows absolutely, the growth in the productivity of labor in agriculture
and food production can support the increasing size of the population if
we don't consider the class relations and the distribution of the social
product. Given the class relations particular to capitalism, it is
possible for both population to remain constant (or even decrease) and
social productivity to grow -- and at the same time have (relative)
overpopulation (and the poverty that comes with it for the mass of
unemployed nonowners).

We can talk about fish, sharks, bacteria and lemmings if you'd like, but
I'd rather talk about human beings under capitalism.


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