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

ehrbar at greenhouse.economics.utah.edu ehrbar at greenhouse.economics.utah.edu
Wed Jul 13 08:20:04 MDT 2011

The person whom I quoted, call him Anonymous, wrote:

>> 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.

David replies:

> 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. <rest of paragraph
> omitted>

This is a red herring.  Obviously Anonymous meant minimizing
consumption beyond the needs of a dignified survival,
i.e. beyond say $20 a day a person.

> Also, this has embedded the assumption that human use of resources is
> always a bad thing, so we have to minimise this necessary evil,

Leave out the "always."  Right now, at this historical
juncture, human use of resources is bad because we have
grown so numerous that we are triggering a response in the
host (the planet) to shake us off which will change
everything for us.

> and that human purposes are somehow less moral than those of nature.

It's not a matter of morality, it is a matter of dignified
survival.  If the human race is too greedy to be content
with dignified survival they will lose dignified survival
itself.  If this sounds like a moralistic fable, it is
because the planet is moralistic with us.  Mother Earth is
telling us: you are so smart, you better learn some
moderation, otherwise you are making me sneeze.

> Protecting our environment is a requirement to survive and thrive,

Instrumentalizing the environment to human purposes is
something which we will perhaps be able to do in 10,000
years.  If we have to consciously steer the ecosystem which
right now gives us almost everything for free, this will be
very expensive.  Right now we neither have the skills nor
the produced wealth to do that.  Right now, it is better to
consider humans as just one link in a highly interdependent
planetary system.  Yes, we do need to preserve species
diversity.  We will want to do this even if we have become
the masters of the ecosystem.


>> 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.

Regretfully you found this too obvious to elaborate.  Had
you thought a little more about this I am sure you would have
discovered yourself that you are confusing value and use-value.

> This notion of being freeriders on nature ... is rather peculiar.

Nature gives us many things for free.  Think ecosystem
services, low entropy ores, fossil fuels.  But it comes with
a caveat.  Mother nature is telling us not to get too greedy
because otherwise the freebies will disappear.  Anonymous's
provocative term "freeriding on nature" is fruitful because
it draws attention to this.

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

Instead of "don't kill the host" Anonymous should have said:
"don't give the host a fever" or "don't make the host sneeze".
David still can't get over it that his beloved humans have
turned into parasites:

> 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?

Yep, Gaia theory is involved in this, and I think Marxists
should take Gaia theory seriously.  Lovelock says that right
now Gaia has a digestive system, it does not yet have a
brain.  Some time in the far future humans will be the
brain, but right now we are just a bunch of parasites at the
moment of our expulsion from paradise.

> 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.

Humans are not evil but they are so smart that they managed
to break out of this natural equilibrium.  But we are not
yet smart or rich enough to consciously steer the ecosystem.
This is why we need to be modest.

> 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.

Good metaphor.  Humans are as poisonous to today's
environment as oxygen was to the original anaerobic
environment.  In the far future, everything will have
changed and we will no longer be poisonous, but right now we
are, and as a consequence there will be a lot of human
suffering for at least 1000 years.


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