[Marxism] The absence of real forces [was: The low point]

Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Sat Aug 4 09:20:04 MDT 2007

Joaquin Bustelo wrote:
> This instead of a theory that would say simply that extra economic factors
> --brute force, superiority in arms, colonial subjugation-- are what keeps
> the exchanges from being equal. It may be that originally, to establish the
> pattern of unequal exchange only force and subjugation will do, and even
> that to maintain the pattern some application of force is needed from time
> to time otherwise there will be a drift towards equal exchange, but I'm
> looking for a mechanism that in the main will result in automatic,
> continuing unequal exchange, even if there is a slow tendency that must be
> counteracted towards equal exchange. This to explain semi-colonialism and
> the joint, largely cooperative exploitation by the imperialist countries of
> the third world.

reading JB late last nite reminded me of a paper i saw a couple weeks 
ago, written jointly by physicists and some Kennedy School of Govt 
profs. rather than looking at labour and value, they looked at how 
countries attempt to expand their economies by jumping around in the 
space of products (commodities). their point is somehow that "developed 
nations" are now capable somehow of leaping from commodity to new 
commodity easily while "developing nations" cannot make the jumps 
easily. of course, that doesn't explain how we got two classes of 
nations, but if you take JB's extra-economic as pre-conditions, this is 
an alternative explanation.

i am not proposing this, merely putting Joaquin's thoughts into 
perspective by contrasting it with another theory.


Science 27 July 2007: Vol. 317. no. 5837, pp. 482 - 487 DOI: 

The Product Space Conditions the Development of Nations
C. A. Hidalgo, B. Klinger, A.-L. Barabási, R. Hausmann

Economies grow by upgrading the products they produce and export. The 
technology, capital, institutions, and skills needed to make newer 
products are more easily adapted from some products than from others. 
Here, we study this network of relatedness between products, or "product 
space," finding that more-sophisticated products are located in a 
densely connected core whereas less-sophisticated products occupy a 
less-connected periphery. Empirically, countries move through the 
product space by developing goods close to those they currently produce. 
Most countries can reach the core only by traversing empirically 
infrequent distances, which may help explain why poor countries have 
trouble developing more competitive exports and fail to converge to the 
income levels of rich countries.

Does the type of product that a country exports matter for subsequent 
economic performance? The fathers of development economics held that it 
does, suggesting that industrialization creates spillover benefits that 
fuel subsequent growth (1–3). Yet, lacking formal models, mainstream 
economic theory has been unable to incorporate these ideas. Instead, two 
approaches have been used to explain a country's pattern of 
specialization. The first focuses on the relative proportion between 
productive factors (i.e., physical capital, labor, land, skills or human 
capital, infrastructure, and institutions) (4). Hence, poor countries 
specialize in goods intensive in unskilled labor and land, whereas 
richer countries specialize in goods requiring infrastructure, 
institutions, and human and physical capital. The second approach 
emphasizes technological differences (5) and has to be complemented with 
a theory of what underlies them. The varieties and quality ladders 
models (6, 7) assume that there is always a slightly more advanced 
product, or just a different one, that countries can move to, 
disregarding product similarities when thinking about structural 
transformation and growth.

Think of a product as a tree and the set of all products as a forest. A 
country is composed of a collection of firms, i.e., of monkeys that live 
on different trees and exploit those products. The process of growth 
implies moving from a poorer part of the forest, where trees have little 
fruit, to better parts of the forest. This implies that monkeys would 
have to jump distances, that is, redeploy (human, physical, and 
institutional) capital toward goods that are different from those 
currently under production. Traditional growth theory assumes there is 
always a tree within reach; hence, the structure of this forest is 
unimportant. However, if this forest is heterogeneous, with some dense 
areas and other more-deserted ones, and if monkeys can jump only limited 
distances, then monkeys may be unable to move through the forest. If 
this is the case, the structure of this space and a country's 
orientation within it become of great importance to the development of 

[snip to end]

The bimodal distribution of international income levels and a lack of 
convergence of the poor toward the rich has been explained by using 
geographic (24) and institutional (12, 13) arguments. Here, we 
introduced another factor to this discussion: the difficulties involved 
in moving through the product space. The detailed structure of the 
product space is shown here and, together with the location of the 
countries and the characteristics of the diffusion process undergone by 
them, strongly suggests that not all countries face the same 
opportunities when it comes to development. Poorer countries tend to be 
located in the periphery, where moving toward new products is harder to 
achieve. More interestingly, among countries with a similar level of 
development and seemingly similar levels of production and export 
sophistication, there is significant variation in the option set implied 
by their current productive structure, with some on a path to continued 
structural transformation and growth and others stuck in a dead end.

These findings have important consequences for economic policy, because 
the incentives to promote structural transformation in the presence of 
proximate opportunities are quite different from those required when a 
country hits a dead end. It is quite difficult for production to shift 
to products far away in the space, and therefore policies to promote 
large jumps are more challenging. Yet it is precisely these long jumps 
that generate subsequent structural transformation, convergence, and growth.

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