File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-01-21.060, message 29


Date: Mon, 20 Jan 1997 11:00:46 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: M-I: planning please


On Mon, 20 Jan 1997, Justin Schwartz wrote:

> I make no such assumption as AWA suggests, that personal wants and needs
> are individually produced or exogenous to the system of satisfying them.
> In fact I reject that assumption. No such premise plays any role in my
> argument for markets. However preferences are produced, however, there
> must be some way to aggregate and satisfy them, a way that takes into
> account the costs of doing so one way rather than another. 

How we aggregate and satisfy wants and needs is bound up in "however
preferences are produced." You are still ignoring social reality (like
most arguments from the free market perspective, a simple and clean model
supplants complex reality--*ceteris paribus*!). Your argument is driven by
an implicit premise that places consumption *a priori*. In other words,
patterns of consumption, based on aggregated preferences, structure
production in the market. Markets therefore work as lines of communication
to the producer as to what the consumer prefers. This is generally
backwards (certainly in market genesis), and does indeed stem from an
individualistic premise. (More on why this is irrelevant under monopoly
capitalism in a moment--Proyect nails this point in his post.) It reflects
the same flaws that led you to make statements regarding rewarding efforts
and flexible systems.

Of course, you may not take the Marxian perspective. But I think Marx's
argument in this regard is one of his finest, and fairly demolishes the
premise I understand you argument to be based on. In Marx's view, not only
are the means of survival viewed as social products fulfilling human need,
for everything humans produce is socially produced (or constructed) 
reality (for production always occurs in a social context), and not only
does surplus production fulfills human wants, but both needs and wants are
socially produced (often in surplus!). Lefebvre writes that "there is
nothing in human life that does not correspond to some need or does not
create a need, even in the most remote reaches of culture and technology,
let alone in economic life." Ultimately our preferences stem from a
particular mode of production, and therefore consumption based on
aggregated preference cannot be the starting point (hence you need to
justify markets on something other than aggregated human preferences). 

Directly counter to your argument, in Wage Labor and Capital, Marx,
following Hegel, argued that "Our desires and pleasures spring from
society; we measure them, therefore, by society and not by the objects
which serve for their satisfaction." Avineri summarizes Marx's position:
"History is not only the story of the satisfaction of human needs but also
the story of their emergence and development. Whereas animal needs are
constant and determined by nature, man's needs are social and historical,
i.e., determined in the last resort by man himself. Marx denies that each
generation's consciousness of its own needs is a mechanistic, automatic
response of the human consciousness to merely material stimuli. Man's
consciousness of his own needs is a product of his historical development
and attests to the cultural values achieved by preceding generations." 
Avineri argues, and even more to the point, that "since historical
development enriched human wants, they cannot be measured without first
being related to the modes of production which create them." 

Therefore, your dismissal of preference creation in production implied in
your phrasing "however preferences are created..." cannot be dismissed,
for the creation of preferences is central to the argument that markets
are the best way to structure the fulfillment of needs and wants. Once
capitalism is overthrown, and a new productive relation is constructed,
our wants and needs will be fundamentally transformed over time, so much
so that the market, as a creation of capitalism, will become irrelevant to
the new productive arrangement. 

There are a few other critically important arguments to be made related to
this. One argument is offered in today's set of posts by Louis Proyect: 
that your model assumes competitive capitalist relations (however falsely
premised) when on the contrary we live in a world where monopoly capital
dominates. Now this is not to say that monopoly capital is the sole
productive arrangement, labor-intensive industries still operate under
quasi-competitive dynamics. But generally the monopoly mode is dominant,
and nevertheless structures and therefore determines the character of the
overall market in which competitive sectors operate. The point here is
that restructing markets under socialism, transforming them from the
objective monopoly form to a competitive systems of autonomous worker
owned firms would involve massive planning.

Closely related to this is your argument that markets are necessary to
regulate costs, when the capitalist mode of production's tendency is to
externalize costs. Once again, a classical assumption of internalization
of costs is mapped onto a reality that is at odds with this model. Now, I
understand that you are arguing for markets in a socialist society, but
you must demonstrate how all costs will be internalized, which suggests
planning, don't you think? I think it will. Just as the restructuring of
market from monopoly to competitive simultaneous with the transfer of
ownership from the ruling class to the worker class will involve
coordination, so will the forced internalization of all costs in
production. The market is indeed a mystical thing, but it hasn't enough
magic to do any these things. 

One last point tangentially related to this whole argument, and this
involves the boiling out of individuals from class arrangements. "From
such a point of view," Avineri argues, regarding the creation of wants and
needs in production, that is taking the Marxian view on this, "class war
brutally demonstrates that the satisfaction of wants lags behind the
expectations arising out of social organizations." (Yet another
contradiction that serves as a source for conflict in capitalist society.)
Again, this connection between production and consumption, through the
mediation of needs production, is integral to understanding what drives
social production forward. Why? "Because [needs, wants, preferences] are
of a social nature, they are of a relative nature." The distinction Marx
makes between absolute and relative deprivation is very sophisticated.
Marx stresses the historical change in, and the social origin of, material
needs and wants and the rising standard of minimum material acquisition.

This last point has confused individuals as thoughtful and well acquainted
with Marx as Baudrillard, who argues that consumption, not production, is
the basis for the social order. This brings my argument back to its
starting point. Arguments for markets neglect the fact that we not only
produce objects to fill needs, but that we additionally produce needs. C. 
Wright Mills picked this up in an argument (anticipating Marcuse's
"one-dimensional man" thesis) when he suggested that a segment of the
populations main productive role in monopoly capitalism is consumption, an
irony with profound theoretical implications. 

Andrew Austin





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