Friday, 9 December 2016

Postcard From Prague - Capitalism as Kafkaesque Nightmare


No-one has ever truly understood Franz Kafka until he or she understands Wittgenstein’s enucleation of his maxim: “The law always catches the criminal”. Because if the law “always” catches the criminal, then it is no longer “the law” but becomes instead an inexorable fate. The aim of bourgeois economics is, as it were, to square the circle, to present a specific historical reality – that of the capitalist “market” where human beings alienate their living activity – as an inexorable fate. By reducing this “political” reality to an inexorable fate, bourgeois economics is then able to turn social relations of production into inescapable mathematical formulae and equations that yield “economic equilibrium”. But the very “success” of this operation – the “ful-filment” of its conditions, their “satis-faction” or “com-pletion” – leads to the con-clusion (German, Voll-endung, full-ending) and de-pletion of their con-tent: in other words, the algebraic formulae of bourgeois economic equilibrium, just like the law in Kafka, lose all meaning and content of their categories at the precise instant that they seem to capture it.

This is how capitalism has turned from a specific oppressive historical institution into a Kafkaesque nightmare of ecological suicide for the human race. Even the Classical economists limited the extent of capitalist production and profitability to the exertion of “labour” – in the sense that Classical Political Economy (Adam Smit, David Ricardo and J.S. Mill) could envision the limit of capitalist accumulation as the political choice made by workers to exert their “labour”. Such was the “positive” metaphysical slant of the Labour Theory of Value that Karl Marx himself (!!) in the entirety of his theoretical work could never envisage the eventual destruction on the part of capitalism of the entire ecosphere through sheer human overpopulation!

The Classical Political Economists could see that “goods” in vast abundance – such as water and air – did not and could not carry any “value” – and therefore could not form the basis of capitalist profitability. In its “constructivist” and “objectivist” slant (the labour theory of value poses value as a positive objective quantity), this theory could not lead to the “negative” subjectivist inversion of the theory of value operated by Neoclassical Economic Theory (from Menger to Jevons to Walras) that would lead to the nihilistic Schopenhauerian “renunciation” of life itself – and therefore to the conceivable annihilation of human life on earth. This nihilism of Neoclassical Theory is best captured by the notion of “scarcity”. Where the Classical labour theory of value put value as “wealth through labour”, the Neoclassics erected “wealth through privation”, - that is to say, scarcity as the origin of wealth. But whereas for Classical Political Economy labour, and therefore wealth, were finite quantities easily exhausted, for Neoclassical bourgeois economic theory, wealth becomes an inexhaustible downward spiral of selfish appropriation of resources!

As Bohm-Bawerk put it, “the first law of physics is that in the universe nothing is created and nothing is destroyed: everything is transformed”. For the Neoclassics, the self-interested individual is the centre of the universe. All the Labour in the world – like the Sisyphean Arbeit in Schopenhauer – cannot positively create any “wealth”. Wealth can only be the transferral or “exchange” of possessions or properties from one individual to another – and then only if some individuals “renounce” their right to present consumption “in exchange for” future consumption. “Scarcity” is the inexorable fate of a society that has put the unquenchable thirst for the accumulation of social resources as the endless pursuit of the self-interested individual! Scarcity is the end-result of Wicksell’s “universally free competition” amongst self-interested individuals. In the Neoclassical bourgeois capitalist economy, nothing is created, everything is transformed or delayed. In this “exchange” nothing is “positively” created – selfish individuals have only re-balanced their current legal claims to property into the indefinite future. As Keynes himself put it, “money is a bridge between the present and the future”. For the capitalist, money is the legal claim to future human living labour. Capitalism is a hypothecation, a mort-gage (French, morte, death, and gage, pledge – dead pledge) on the future life of workers.

But the result of this endless capitalist hypothecation of future human activity can only entail the ceaseless exhaustion of social resources through relative overpopulation – that is to say, through a human population of living labour that constantly exceeds the means available for its reproduction, for the survival of the human race. The constant “scarcity” of social resources engineered by the capitalist economic system must perforce engender the depletion of the ecosphere through human overpopulation. The erstwhile saying “Socialism or Death” may yet come to reveal a hitherto unknown facet – one that even the great fatidic Karl Marx could not envisage.

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