Unequal Exchange

Chris Burford cburford at gn.apc.org
Tue Jan 24 02:15:19 MST 1995

Because things appear a bit quiet at times I don't
necessarily think that means that they are dull, because
a lot of work may be going on off screen. (For my
part I am still catching up with Rick's leads, and
Steve Keen's thesis, downloaded from the archive.

The present thread about imperialism is of enormous
imprtance. Literally hundreds of thousands are dying
each year in a world of plenty through the apparently
inexorable processes of uneven development, which are
clearly linked to the uneven accumulation of capital.

Authors like Michael Barratt Brown (and many others
clearly show to my own satisfaction that there are
many factors that contribute to the disadvantage of
third world people in a "fair" international trading
system (fair after the direct polical controls of
colonialism have gone).

Psychological cultural and social factors undoubtedly
have a part. Commodities now are marketted with
great effect to tune in most rapidly to cultural
and psychological values to extract exchange value
from the purchaser. Hence the need for an international
campaign to restrain Nestle's promotion of a
sophisticated baby milk commodity in a continent where
so many babies die.

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels described
how "The cheap prices of its commodities are the
heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese
walls." Nowadays the bullets are the cans of Cocoa Cola
and Pepsi, and the declarations of war their giant
advertisement hoardings in every third world country
with an appalling balance of payments problem.

BUT if we are really to understand the most fundamental
reason for the massive unequal exchange between North and
South I think by analogy with Marx's approach to
explaining the essentially *fair* process by which the
worker is exploited in the sale of his/her labour
power, we must look for the fair process by which
unequal exchange occurs.

And here I cannot understand whether we should say when
Tanzania has to sweat to produce twice as much jute to
buy one tractor than it did 10 years ago, there is an
unequal exchange of labour, or an unequal exchange of
exchange value.

Does it depend on your reference point?

I would really appreciate people's views.

Chris Burford
Community Psychiatrist, specialising in schizophrenia.
Member of the Forum for Marxism, Philosophy and Science,
and the Southern Africa Economic Research Unit, SAERU.

London                                   "Only connect..."


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