[Marxism] What do Marxists do when labor is no longer the limiting factor of production?

David P Á david at miradoiro.com
Tue Jul 12 23:20:25 MDT 2011

Some ideas on this notion. I'm only going to touch on the bits I
disagree with.

On 13/07/2011 0:39, ehrbar at greenhouse.economics.utah.edu wrote:
> In response to my "are we too nice" posting, someone wrote
> me something I think I agree with (still have to think about
> it more):
>> Yes, we need disciplined cooperation, but not to
>> produce as much as possible. We need to maximize
>> our wealth by minimizing our waste and consumption.

Minimising waste is a good notion. Minimising consumption is a
ridiculous call for a world where hundreds of millions of people
experience privation in their basic needs. It's fine to talk about
minimising consumption when one uses 2x as much energy as the world
average (such as the average EU citizen) or even more, but what about
people in India, who use about 30% world average energy per capita?
Talking to these people about minimising consumption is like talking
about the benefits of dieting to the starving, IMO.

Also, this has embedded the assumption that human use of resources is
always a bad thing, so we have to minimise this necessary evil, and that
human purposes are somehow less moral than those of nature. It's a
moralist position. Protecting our environment is a requirement to
survive and thrive, but that is different from the notion (say, from
deep ecology) that "well-being and flourishing of nonhuman life on Earth
has value in itself, richness and diversity of life forms contribute to
the realization of this value and are also values in themselves and
humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to
satisfy vital human needs." (Paraphrased.)

>> Labor shortage is a quaint theory. Today, we take the
>> wealth of nature with machines, and that makes us all
>> freeriders. Resources and pollution limits are now the
>> limiting factors, the weak links in the chain of production.

This is pretty obviously misguided. I'd have to recommend a review of
the notions of living and dead labour. Machines do not make themselves,
nor even do they quite operate themselves at this stage of production.

This notion of being freeriders on nature ... is rather peculiar.
Obviously we do not engage in a process of exchange with nature, as
nature is not an economic actor. Speaking of freeriding on nature is, as
I see it, a large category error: neither is nature a person, nor do the
sun, plants and animals engage in labour, that they may be exploited.

At the margin, though, what would it take to not be a freerider on
nature, and what distinguishes humans from other animals in this regard?
We use outputs produced by other natural processes (heat, plant and
animal matter, minerals...) just as any plant or animal does. So are we
all freeriding on each other? What is this nature, that is at once
conjoined with us (we are part of nature is a frequent slogan of
environmentalists) and yet separate enough that we can actually exploit
it, and how could we interface with such a thing? Commercial exchange?

>> Planet parasites unite! Don't kill the host.

Parasitism is a relation between at least two entities, whereby one of
them benefits and the other suffers harm, in terms of fitness. How is
the planet a potential parasite host, what is a function of planetary
fitness, and how can such a thing even be computed when planets, to my
knowledge, do not reproduce?

Being a bit less strict with the metaphor, and assuming it refers to the
ecosphere, I still don't see how it is applicable. We're doing what all
the other lifeforms are doing: trying to survive and thrive. This is
never free from conflict: even plants must compete for sunlight and
minerals. Nor is homeostasis ever assured, even without evil humans in
the picture. After all, cyanobacteria introduced, merely as a byproduct,
but to their benefit (and ours), high concentrations of oxygen in the
environment, which at the time, to most life forms, was a metabolic
poison. These things happen.

>> The freerider concept is the problem and it
>> drives the "need" to produce as much as possible,
>> even though that is way too much.

How is it judged whether it's way too much? How many people have to
starve before a particular non-human creature can be justified to suffer
harm? That's obviously the absurd end of the calculation, but such
balance is always absurd. How many people should go without an
education, or without adequate shelter, or adequate control over

> Co-operation also means: if you have a green technology, we
> expect you to give it to those in need, in Africa etc.  We
> will not ask those in Africa to pay for it, but we may ask
> them to introduce birth control--while again fighting like
> hell for an old age insurance system so that they don't need
> so many children to secure their old age.  Again don't
> make us responsible if it does not exist.

So, we're not responsible that it does not exist, but they're
responsible for doing what it takes to survive in such circumstances?
That is a convenient way to attribute responsibility. Incidentally, on
the notion of birth control, which I don't particularly take issue with,
though it's something that happens pretty organically by itself when
women are educated and get to decide, if we're taking an
environmentalist stance here where we should utterly forbid births is in
the first world, where people are actually consuming much higher than
average resources per capita. Not that I'm suggesting this: I suppose
I'm trying to make the point that focussing on birth control in the
developing world seems to be missing the point to me.

> Co-operation also means: get over what was done to you in
> the past.  Don't think that being exploited made you
> a better person.

This can be read several ways and I'm just not sure how to interpret it.
I was going to make a point about it but I'm not sure I'm actually
reading it correctly, so I will not.


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