Inefficiency of capitalist agricuture.

Brian Carnell briand at carnell.com
Thu Apr 25 07:09:14 MDT 1996


On Thu, 25 Apr 1996 12:14:52 -0400, "Matt D." <afn02065 at afn.org>
wrote:

>It's important to note here that the "inefficiency" of capitalist agricultural
>production in the U.S. is really "over efficiency" -- that is, overproduction
>relative to the market, making it impossible to recoup the surplus em-
>bodied in the products of labor.

Exactly what do you mean by overproduction which "make(s) it
impossible to recoup surplus emobied in the products of labor"?  What
has happened in the U.S. and elsewhere is the mechanization of farming
has created an economy of scale which makes it difficult for all but
the largest farming companies farm at a rate that remains profitable.

>Also, while from this standpoint agricultural production is "overcapitalized",
>at the same time substantial sections of the productive process might be
>considered "undercapitalized" -- particularly harvesting (witness the
>subproletariat of migrant pickers).

How is agricultural production "overcapitalized"?  While there is
certainly too much capital equipment owned by small farmers, this is a
result of government subsidies which have artificially kept
agricultural prices high and thus made some of these capital
expenditures make economic sense briefly, but over the long run the
gov't is merely practicing a dangerous form of economic deception by
distorting the price system for food.

It is also hard to see how the harvesting business is
"undercapitalized."  Capital expenditures in farming only makes sense
when over the long term one can produce more efficiently with fewer
people and more machines, than the reverse.  Harvesting is one area
where it often makes sense to employ extra people rather than buy
extra machines.

Plus I think the bottom line is being missed here.  One of the phrases
I hear on this mailing list occasionally and often in the world at
large is that the rich kept getting rich and the poor keep getting
poorer.   In fact Marx touches on this in "Wage-Labour and Capital"
where he claims, "What then is the general law which determines the
rise and fall of wages and profits in their reciprocal relation?  They
stand in inverse ration to each other.  Capital's share, profit,
rises, in the same proportion as labour's share, wages, falls and vice
versa.  Profit rises to the extent that wages fall; it falls to the
extent that wages rise."

This is an interesting observation, and perhaps even accurate to some
extent, but misses the overall point that even though the relative
share may over time remain unequal or even grow more unequal, the
absolute value of the worker's share keeps growing and growing.

As a worker it does not bother me much that the capitalist's gets an
unequal share of the profits off food, since one of the byproducts has
been a massive absolute decline in the price of food since the
mid-19th century.  In fact as long as the capitalist's unequal share
is either a) spent in the marketplace on goods and services or b)
reinvested through the buying of capital, the disproportionate share
might even have a beneficial effect.

For example, sure the owners, managers and stockholders of computer
companies get a disproportionate share of the income generated by wage
workers get.  But in the last 10 years computer prices have decreased
10-fold while computer perfomance has improved 100-fold.  I can today
buy a computer today for $3,000 which 10 years ago would have cost
$30,000 to $50,000 if it would have been available at all.

In the face of that sort of improvement, the fact that Bill Gates
makes more than the programmers who actually wrote the Windows
software, or that the Intel stockholders make more money than those
who manage the corporation seems irrelevant.


-----------------------------------------------------------------

Brian Carnell                   http://www.net-link.net/~briand/
briand at carnell.com


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