Vocabulary: "Cost\Benefit" -Reply

Fri Jul 14 17:12:05 MDT 1995

Yeah, I know, and they haven't quit.  There are bills in congress
right now that propose to prevent any environmental reg. if the cost
(to an industry, in aggregate) is greater than some number such as
$50 mill. because that would outweigh the non-dollar-quantified or
perhaps even quantifiable "benefits" of people who breathe air and
drink water.

But I can't think any way out of the c/b vocabulary per se.  My
answer is always to say "from whose point of view? costs to whom?
benefits to whom? measured how?"

I think that no one should ever be allowed to get away with tossing
around cost and benefit language without specifying these things.
The vague and pro-capitalist arguments of "better for society" or
better for USA or "us", etc. are what I think Marx was attacking, by
saying hey, the profit system is not "benefiting" everyone,
especially not those who pay the "costs" of working all their lives
in order to produce the profits that only "benefit" others.

So, this is my sympathetic take on your point about the use of c/b
language by supporters of capitalism.

But my field, and neo-darwin evolutionary biology in general, has
been using c/b analysis from the individual organism point of view in
terms of fitness-related effects of behavior/anatomy for about 30
years now.  So I'm well-accustomed to what I mean by it, and I can't
think of any good alternative vocabulary, just clarifying specifics
to include with it.

My approach is to think that c/b language per se is not the culprit
in capitalist-justifying-economics.  It is the way it is used to
confuse the issues that is the problem, i.e. "balancing" one's "cost"
(public/workers costs) and non-direct-dollar costs (health-care costs
may be quantifiable, but suffering, death, quality of life costs are
not) against another's (capitalists') profits as "benefits" for all.

That is a way to try to pretend that there is no conflict of interest
within society, because allowing more profits and less envir.
protection is "better for the economy/society" as a whole.  Which is
very far indeed from what I'm doing.

If I didn't know better than that, I wouldn't be here.  In my anthro.
we pay a lot of attention to who pays the cost and who gets the
benefits, partly in reaction to previous anthropology which never did

[Aside]: Traditional/cultural anthropology is crap IMO largely
because it sees *everything* as serving some "cultural function" such
as cultural reproduction and stability, everything is "good for the
group or culture."  To me, that is something like saying that workers
and owners have capitalist relations because that is "good for the
economy."  It seems to me to refuse to notice that there are winners
and losers, constant conflict, negotiation, domination, resistance
and instability in every culture.  Such "social structural
functionalism" and other cultural-anthro threads may be a bit out of
vogue now, partly because there is no good theoretical base for this
view, and no coherent way to explain culture change.  It's a rather
static view.  But I'm not the best source for the present state of
cultural anthro, because I don't do it or try to keep up with it
[other things to do] and what I do know, I don't like.  But I do run
into it, and this is my take on it, and this is another example of a
meeting/collision between theories of social behavior in anthropology
and marxism.

I know c/b language sometimes presents a barrier to understanding,
because some people [to my face, off-list only, I think] have claimed
that I must only be a servant of capital in order to talk like that,
so part of what I'm about is showing that it is not so.  I think I am
doing good science and I think that it does not conflict with, and
even in fact it will better inform an on-going, ever-improving
marxian/socialist understanding of social/behavior.  Except I do not
only examine class-based conflict in the aggregate.  I think Marx was
on the right track to look within an economy for conflicts of
interest, and I'm further down that track in looking within any other
allegedly unitary thing, be it a culture/society, class, clan,
family, village, marriage...

Is that any help with c/b vocab/concept concerns?  There are surely
many hurdles to inter-departmental or multi-disciplinary
communication.  If anyone can think of a way to facilitate the
translation, please speak up.


>>> Carrol Cox <cbcox at rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu>  7/13/95, 09:28pm >>>
    I wonder if some other terminology could be used for the
discussion of "cost\benefit." For me that terminology is inextricably
innertwined with the attempts over the past 15 years to destroy all
environmental controls, work safety, worker control of work
conditions, etc. It seems to me to fit only commodity relations, but
as I have followed the discussion it is really unconcerned with
commodity exchange.
        Carrol Cox

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