• Posty McPostface
    4.7k
    Susan Haack - Philosophy of Logics
  • Maw
    978
    Marx's Capital is such a wonderful book. One of the best tomes that few people read - up there with Leopardi's Ziboldone, Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, and Montaigne's Essays.
  • John Doe
    157


    I finally got around to reading Capital Vol. 1 for the first time late last year and was impressed by a lot of misconceptions which I think surround it. Beyond the opening few chapters, it's far more focused on description and analysis than theory, and a lot of the concerns he's raising deal with irrefutably awful stuff, unless one's pro de facto child slavery. It's certainly not a 1000+ page theoretical edifice a la Kant, which is what I think scares people off.
  • fdrake
    1.3k
    Finished Monbiot's Out of the Wreckage, How Did We Get Into This Mess? They're argued with excellent rhetorical flourish but are a little weak on discussion of source material, most of the time the source material looks quite transparent though so I'm still impressed.

    The strongest essay I remember is on compound growth and differential resource consumption - convincingly arguing that overpopulation is a massively exaggerated problem when tied with an analysis of differences in consumption and consumerism. @Baden's made this point with similar alacrity before - that a high and increasing number of consumers is the root assumption of the overpopulation scare. The world can stand more, a lot more, people with their needs and sensible wants met but it can't stand the economic arrangement that enables the number of suburban McMansion SUV yatch parties to be sustained or grow.

    I followed with Harvey's 17 Contradictions of Capital, which while attempting to provide a contemporary entry point to Marxist theory unfortunately doesn't jettison the theoretical jargon of alienation and value theory, so it's still unfortunately mostly another good contribution to Marxist scholarship. The major rhetorical contribution it makes is that it does 'dialectical analysis' from the ground up and without much reference to Hegel. Making the Marxist notion of contradiction something intuitive - as a conflict of interests or prescribed actions inherent in a doctrine or social arrangement - which nevertheless does all the theoretical work it's supposed to is pretty excellent.

    The most memorable insights are the maxim 'capital doesn't resolve its contradictions, it moves them around geographically'. It comes with a discussion of how conditions in sweatshops in Asia and Africa are still much the same as Marx describes in the factories of England in his day. That he does this without leaning on 'third-worldism' as a political paradigm is refreshing.

    After that, I finally manned up and decided to tackle Manufacturing Consent. Besides the methodological criticism that the authors are using training data as test data, it's still a very well documented exhibition of how the media, the government and influential/monied groups (some of them media organisations) construct the meaningful context and acceptable bounds of political discussion. Considering mainstream skepticism of the media and its relationship to governments in the US, Europe, Russia and Australia, it reads as a little outdated. I'd like if someone could tell me where to look to find discussion of how 'skepticism management' fits into this as a companion piece - one needs only to look at the memetic character of 'fake news' to see that the game's changed a bit since the book was published.
  • csalisbury
    1.4k
    The world can stand more, a lot more, people with their needs and sensible wants met but it can't stand the economic arrangement that enables the number of suburban McMansion SUV yatch parties to be sustained or grow.fdrake

    I feel like the only solution would be a different form of status symbol. It seems, unfortunately, like a need for legible social hierarchy is built deeply into us, and conspicuous consumption is the most legible game in town.

    But then you probably can't just make a new system of status symbols out of whole cloth because any official, public system would immediately generate a shadow-system where buying into the official system would, at a certain level, be considered low-status.

    Feel like the saddest part of the human condition is that, no matter where you're at socially, you're not really there. You're smeared somewhere between the level you're trying to differentiate yourself from, and another higher level, the existence of which is potentially humiliating, if people you care about ascend to it and you remain. So there's an endless restlessness where you're never on absolutely firm social ground. And that gets externalized in yachts and all that. I don't even think most of the yachtiest people care that much about yachts. The yachts are more like a firm stare at another.

    I think that's also part of the deal with stuff like what's revealed in the panama papers. Its partially about protecting your wealth, but also at a certain level, its like - how much wealth do you need? I think its more that the only way people can feel secure that they're elite is to be part of exclusionary second-world. The highest status symbol is a kind of secret handshake and access (to whatever)
  • Snakes Alive
    228
    Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel in 100,000 Words – Milorad Pavic
  • Maw
    978
    I followed with Harvey's 17 Contradictions of Capital, which while attempting to provide a contemporary entry point to Marxist theory unfortunately doesn't jettison the theoretical jargon of alienation and value theoryfdrake

    It's surprising that Harvey includes the Labor Theory of Value given that (if I recall correctly), he's acknowledged it's not widely accepted anymore.
  • fdrake
    1.3k


    Marx has his own value theory, it starts with the distinction of use value and exchange value, that road leads up to the different historico-logical money forms that culminates in money as the general equivalent, then some of its uses. There's a thread developed in tandem (in contradiction if you prefer) in Vol 1 concerning labour and production, where the 'value' (not price) of a commodity halves (or at least decreases, depending on reading) if the socially necessary labour time for the commodity halves.

    Coming from this is the idea of 'surplus value' coming from labourers producing things worth more than it takes to pay them to make those things, which Marx gets at through the distinction between labour time (how long it takes to make a thing) and labour power (the capacity to work).

    I don't see how anyone could come through Capital without registering the distinction between value and price.
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    Giorgio Agamben - The Adventure
    Giorgio Agamben - The Fire and the Tale
  • Maw
    978
    I don't see how anyone could come through Capital without registering the distinction between value and price.fdrake

    Yeah the distinction between value and price is made evident early on in Capital.
  • fdrake
    1.3k


    I never could square myself with it though. Value's clearly something quantitative as it tracks socially necessary labour time, but it doesn't have a particularly simple relationship with price. There are situations where the price can be much lower than the one suggested through socially necessary labour time (like what results from a production subsidy), but there are also situations where it can be much higher (like an import tariff). Supply and demand fluctuations can produce the same effects. So it's not like one is a simple function of the other in reality.

    The only way I can see it as empirically relevant is as a baseline expectation or a model of how things would work in the absence of such externalities. So it does reasonably well when you blur out the specifics; the account Marx gives prefigures differences in productive efficiency and production cost facilitating price undercutting, and the induced tendency to replace workers with fixed capital while repressing wages. Those two things, together with the assumption that the expenditure of labour power is the sole site of surplus value creation, suggest the falling rate of profit argument. But people who believe in that are pretty niche. Crises of Neoliberalism is the paradigmatic account (last time I was involved in academic Marxist circles anyway) of contemporary capitalist crisis, which goes against the falling rate of profit argument. But there are those like Andrew Kliman (The Failure of Capitalist Production) and his research circle which still go for it. The central hub here is the discussion of the transformation problem.

    I think the trick with reading Capital usefully is to keep track of the context Marx is assuming for his models; which hold (in some sense) 'in the aggregate' and absent the 'counterveiling tendencies' in his account of capital. So I'm still very fond of the focus on production, the logical structure of money, and treating the commodity and wage labour as the essential features of capitalism. But seeing how those things actually work requires studying of real political contexts and distribution networks, contra 'orthodox Marxism' and those who still hate 'reformism' and have Naxalite wet dreams.
  • Maw
    978


    Yes, I recall one fairly valid criticism of Marx's concept of Value was that a commodity with a higher socially necessary labor time should correlate to higher prices, but this is often not the case as you point out. But to Marx's credit, his general method throughout Capital is to work from an abstract ideal of Capitalism, outside of external forces, in order to demonstrate that Capitalism, as posited by the Bourgeois economist, in its abstract-logical workings, contains internal contradictions, manifesting themselves into substantive conflicts. But I think this also limits his arguments in some areas as well.

    Nevertheless, Marx offers one of the most penetrating critiques of Capitalism of any economist, and I think his definition and understanding of the process of Capitalism is essentially valid. And when we look at the world today, in which productivity has been increasing for decades, stock value has risen dramatically, company profits or soaring as are executive pay, and yet real wages have stagnated, it's hard not to acknowledge the exploitative nature of the beast and accept that Marx was strongly on to something.

    So is Crises of Neoliberalism worth picking up then? I remember when it first came out, but it's been sitting in my Amazon cart for many years.
  • Πετροκότσυφας
    853
    I never could square myself with it though. Value's clearly something quantitative as it tracks socially necessary labour time, but it doesn't have a particularly simple relationship with price. There are situations where the price can be much lower than the one suggested through socially necessary labour time (like what results from a production subsidy), but there are also situations where it can be much higher (like an import tariff). Supply and demand fluctuations can produce the same effects. So it's not like one is a simple function of the other in reality.fdrake

    As far as I'm concerned, the point of Harvey is that it's not like that in Marx either. Value might be produced during the process of production but is realised in the market and when it's not, you'll eventually have a crisis.
  • fdrake
    1.3k
    Yes, I recall one fairly valid criticism of Marx's concept of Value was that a commodity with a higher socially necessary labor time should correlate to higher prices, but this is often not the case as you point out. But to Marx's credit, his general method throughout Capital is to work from an abstract ideal of Capitalism, outside of external forces, in order to demonstrate that Capitalism, as posited by the Bourgeois economist, in its abstract-logical workings, contains internal contradictions, manifesting themselves into substantive conflicts. But I think this also limits his arguments in some areas as well.Maw

    I think we said essentially the same thing. I'd want to stress that the 'abstract ideal' is fundamentally a process model of capital, and what makes it still relevant today is that it still captures the essential features of what it's aimed at. It had some predictive validity too, even if the rate of profit behaviour isn't exactly as pictured. Maybe time will bear it out though.

    Another weakness in Marxist theory (not of Marx) is that it's got almost no emphasis on econometrics - if you give a well read Marxist an economic time series they'll probably have absolutely no idea on how to make predictive inferences for it except in very broad qualitative terms. I think this is mostly an institutional feature of Marxism in the academy though; it's the anthropologists, sociologists, historians and political scientists that study Marxist theory, rather than econometricians or systems theorists (despite the latter's historical indebtedness to Marx).

    So is Crises of Neoliberalism worth picking up then? I remember when it first came out, but it's been sitting in my Amazon cart for many years.Maw

    I don't remember much of it if I'm honest - I gave it a skim read because I felt familiar enough with the account by proxy at the time. But it is well respected.

    As far as I'm concerned, the point of Harvey is that it's not like that in Marx either. Value might be produced during the process of production but is realised in the market and when it's not, you'll eventually have a crisis.Πετροκότσυφας

    Exactly. Marx uses the distinction a lot, and clearly knew that changes in value don't have to correspond to changes in price. Nevertheless, some features of Marx's account require a mathematical correspondence between them - like the initial analysis of cotton looms suggesting direct proportion between value and price - and later on that surplus value, fixed and variable capital are conformable and enter into a ratio. There is a lot of wiggle room in how you quantify these things, which leads Kliman and his programme to affirm the falling rate of profit and Levy and Dumenil to reject it.
  • fdrake
    1.3k


    I remember reading that article some time ago. Gave it a re-skim. I have two comments on it.

    The transformation problem applies in much the same way to money prices and direct prices. What you observe is the money price, and only the money price. Similar theoretical guarantees are required to translate direct price dynamics into money price dynamics. Are they a strictly increasing or decreasing function? No, again it's a complicated relationship. After productive equilibrium is reached, the money price is still characterised as oscillating around the direct price induced by the present socially necessary labour time as expressed in direct price. The means of that expression is left blank - and that absence is the transformation problem rephrased.

    Unless I've really missed something.


    I think the article misses the mark in terms of monetary theory too.

    When we talk about the prices of all commodities, we are by definition leaving one commodity out—the one commodity in the capitalist economy that does not have a price. And what commodity by definition has no price? The money commodity. Since the money commodity serves as the standard of price, it itself cannot have a price. Only if we imagine that money is not a commodity can we talk about the prices of all commodities. Let N equal the total quantity of commodities. The total sum of commodity prices will always leave one commodity out. We can add up the prices only of N – 1 commodities. — Critique of Crisis Theory

    This is completely artificial, currency exchange as the exchange of money commodities is a thing, you can't just say people are actually exchanging the raw general equivalent as values aren't exchanged, money prices as an expression of their direct prices in the exchange are.

    Have you seen that scene in Rick and Morty where Rick sets the value of the Intergalactic Currency to 0 and immediately this makes the galactic economy crash? It's worth 1 of itself, but also 2 of itself and so on... Nevertheless goods would still exchange at relative values and there's an equivalent form which can root a general equivalent again - just set it back to 1, call it a Galabuck, use all the same infrastructure and you're done. The impossibility of this in the real world is precisely why the network of money commodity exchange can't be externalised from the 'real' economy of commodities; which has real manifestations like inflation from the California gold rush or (appropriately distributed as in the theory) quantitative easing.
  • fdrake
    1.3k
    It feels strange to have my red hat on again.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    Re-reading Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics by the sage of Königsberg.
  • Corvus
    83
    The Red Books by C. G. Jung.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph & Frances Gies. Cool book.
  • Maw
    978
    Finished V1 of Capital
  • Maw
    978
    Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    I recently reread Giorgio Agamben's The Sacrament of Language, and something 'clicked' in me about the role that language plays in his work, so I've gone back to reread chapters and essays from almost every second book of his in the last week, including:

    Opus Dei (Last chapter)
    Remnants of Auschwitz (Last chapter)
    State of Exception (Chapter 2 and 3)
    Homo Sacer (Section II and most of Section I)
    Stanzas (Section I and III)
    The Signature of all Things (Chapter 3)
    Infancy and History (Whole book)
    Potentialities (Whole book)
    What Is Philosophy? (Whole book)
    The Coming Community (bits and pieces)
    Profanations (bits and pieces)

    It's been exhilarating.

    Also:
    Finished V1 of CapitalMaw
    :clap:
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    Bruce Pascoe - Dark Emu
    Alexander Galloway - The Interface Effect
  • Maw
    978
    Bruce Pascoe - Dark EmuStreetlightX

    Dude, my friends make fun of me for reading the most tedious of books, but you surely take the cake.

    The Interface Effect sounds interesting though.
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    Haha, I've been intrigued by that book ever since I read this:

    https://griffithreview.com/articles/andrew-bolts-disappointment/

    - a reflection on people's reaction to the book which aims to show the extent of Aboriginal innovation in Australia before white settlement. Also, I've been sniping with my family over just this question recently so I decided I need to get educated! Something a little outside my normal reading habits, but its very good so far and I'm learning lots.
  • Maw
    978
    Also, I've been sniping with my family over just this question recently so I decided I need to get educated!StreetlightX

    lol I'm just imagining your father pounding the table with his fist, his eyebrows furrowed, and his face red with anger, and yelling, "Dammit, Streetlight, you honestly think the Australian aboriginals somehow bypassed a nomadic adaptation for living, despite nearly all humanity across societies and continents experienced it as the initial social structure, instead experiencing some sort of localized Neolithic revolution ex nihilo?"
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    Family dinners are weird :groan:
  • Noble Dust
    3.1k
    Uh, I've been re-reading LotR and loving every second (sentence). :yikes:
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