Development through Alternation

1.5 Decodification of analyses of capital accumulation

Anthony Judge

In attempting to understand better how individuals and social groups accumulate the significance they associate with their particular answers, it is appropriate to look at critical analyses of the well-documented capital accumulation process. This should provide further insights and clues for the pursuit of the enquiry into the characteristics of a desirable meta-answer. The task is therefore to "decodify" such analyses, using them as a model to understand accumulation processes in general rather than as limited to economic processes in the narrrow material sense.

(a) Basic elements

It is first necessary to adapt some basic concepts in order to generalize the discussion and relate it specifically to the production of answers:

"Capital": Anything material or non-material which may be accumulated (or dissipated), including the inherited and acquired abilities of humans (as partially covered by "human capital"), but especially satisfiers for all varieties and levels of human needs whether physical, affective, intellectual, aesthetic, or spiritual.

A non-material basis for capital has in fact been elaborated in a recent study by Folkert Wilken on "The Liberation of Capital" (154). Capital, in his view, is like a river which flows from the Geistesleben into the Wirtschaftsleben before permeating every aspect of the latter. The Geistesleben means the entire intellectual, cultural, artistic, religious, mental, ideological, technological, and educational life:

"The entrepreneurial function, the organising function and the technological function together comprise the role of thought in the development of the economic system. The mind is the powerhouse of all these developments - indeed mind is capital. It is mind which determines the precise way in which nature will be worked upon...The basic nature of capital is thus embodied in mind; it is mind which determines how capital shall be efficient. This source is wholle non-material." (154, p. 224)

"The willpower of the entrepreneur is expressed in his thought, and so becomes his capital, the dynamic of which he directs....Thought therefore constitutes capital of the first degree. Capital of the second degree has taken a money form." (154, p. 225)

"At first sight it may seem odd - particularly to anyone trained in the natural sciences - that the essence of capital lies in the power of the human mind. Yet intellectual power can be seen in the initiatives which have to be taken by the managewrs, in the creative technological aptitudes essential if any capital equipment is to be designed, in the organisational and leadership abilities without which no work force could ever be organised. The means of production owe their very reality to the fact that the human mind has flowed into them; otherwise they would be no use to the entrepreneur at all." (154, p. 231)

Any person or group undertaking to produce an answer should therefore also be considered as an entrepreneur acting within the "answer economy".

"Production": Also covers non-material products and services (some of which may be exchanged without entering a monetary economy), but especially satisfiers for all levels of human needs (as noted above). This includes production of "answers" to a need, whether or not the answer is an adequate one. Products of any kind answer a need, although its necessity may be severely misrepresented.

"Profit": Includes the perceived advantage in initiating any exchange of products or services for the satisfaction of immediate needs or which is expected to result eventually in a net accumulation of value associated with fulfillment of development goals. Profit from the production or exchange of an answer is only possible if there is an effective demand for such an answer.

"Value": Conceived as a continuum between the extremes of material and non-material values. In practice several kinds of value (streams) may be distinguished as being generated simultaneously and independently by the answer production process, desired as a goal of development processes, or intrinsic to an exchange process.

"Money": A token of confidence permitting delays and flexibility in the process of exchange. Such tokens serve temporarily as a store of value and significance. Verbal and other formulations of answers can serve as such tokens.

"Accumulation": Production and accumulation of more answers than are required for the satisfaction of immediate needs. Such a surplus of answers to a need increases freedom of choice beyond the condition in which there is no alternative to the single answer available for the satisfaction of a need. The accumulation of answers is essentially a learning process. Accumulation tends to become an end in itself, leading to so-called anarchy of production.

(b) Critical analysis

Some key phenomena can now be adapted, especially to illustrate structural problems in the production, and distribution of answers:

"Organization of accumulation": Progressive development of societal and psychological structures to maximize accumulation, despite the consequent (a) increases in the inequality of distribution and the contractualization of transactions, (b) exploitation of the producers, and (c) creation and reinforcement of dependency relationships.

"Capitalist system": The mode of production in which answer production is for profitable exchange in the market place. As a buyer (of answers) on that market efficiency is rewarded, but as a seller (of answers) political power is used to thwart efficiency. This basic contradiction is the defining characteristic of a capitalist "world-economy".

"Bourgeois/proletarian dichotomy": Control of the capitalist system by an elite group exploiting privileged access to decisions about answer production by the producing group.

"Centre/periphery dichotomy": In a capitalist system there is an accumulation of surplus answers under exploitative conditions of unequal exchange, resulting in capital leaks from the periphery to the centre. This is pervasive, continuing, and constant.

"Exploitation": A characteristic of the capitalist "world-economy" as a process with a centre and a periphery, both of them moving, the context of them moving, the exact processes within and between changing, but the gradient of exploitation remaining, enriching the centre and impoverishing the periphery in various ways. This reinforces inequality and dependency. The process is set in motion when and where the two conditional inequalities, inequality of distribution and dependence, become coincidental, interrelated, or interwoven.

"Inequality of distribution": Disparity between entities of a system in their possession of, or control over, accumulated capital, and consequently in their freedom of choice. This situation can only be maintained by a system of repression governed by the relation between the willingness of the possessors of answers to repress, and the ability and willingness of the others to rebel or acquiesce.

"Dependence": Centre/periphery structural-relational constraints that make it impossible for certain units in the system to initiate and sustain answer accumulation processes.

"Demand": A function of the sum of the political arrangements between the organized units (resulting from previous struggles) which determine the real distribution of the accumulated surplus of answers.

"Cyclical stagnation in accumulation": The imperatives of answer accumulation result in an inherent tendency to the expansion of absolute volume of production, although demand remains relatively fixed for intermediate periods. This results in recurring bottle-necks of accumulation in the form of stagnation, decline, or retraction, possibly aggravated by the disproportionate energy required to appropriate the surplus. Such down-turns create pressures to restructure the network of answer production processes and social relations to renew the possibilities for expansion.

"Expansion": Cyclic stagnation is ultimately resolved by: (a) expanding the outer boundaries of the system through creating new pools of low-cost direct answer producers incorporated at a disadvantage into the market; (b) expansion of effective demand for answers, partly by proletarianization of direct producers, partly by redistribution of the surplus among the "bourgeoisie". There are logical limits to both these possibilities.

"Hegemony": Results when answer producers in a given domain make their products more readily accessible to those in other domains than are equivalent (competing) products produced within those domains. Such a systematic advantage enables the hegemonic domain to reinforce the advantage of its producers by seeking a dominant position for its other products, especially through imposition of its modes of thought and analysis.

(c) Critical perspective

The previous phenomena can only be satisfactorily examined within a broad perspective from which alternative possibilities can effectively emerge. For the purpose of this exercise the material, above and below, has been adapted from papers on the "world-system" perspective by I. Wallerstein (9, 10, 11) and Herb Addo (1 3), although as interpreted here they bear little relation to the intent of these authors.

"World-system perspective": Assumes that social action takes place in an entity within which there is an ongoing division of answer producing activity. Empirically it seeks to discover whether such an entity is or is not unified, and in what way. Theoretically it asks what are the consequences of the existence or non-existence of such unity. This focuses attention on alternative possibilities for organizing that entity.

"World-empire": A world-system characterized by organized production and distribution of sufficient surplus of answers to support both the producers and the group administering production. Expansion of production is limited since too large a surplus engenders the temptation for its pre-emption before it reaches the administrators. The extent of inequality is therefore subject to some limitation. Cyclic accumulation patterns involve the perpetual incorporation and release of mini-systems based on the simpler process of reciprocal exchange.

"World-economy": A world-system characterized by the continuing absence of overarching organization. It is based on a single division of capitalist productive activity, but without any unified process for the redistribution of accumulating capital, other than the market (whose processes can be readily manipulated by appropriate intervention).

(d) Transformational goal

In the light of the above insights it is useful to look at the goal envisaged by those attempting to eliminate the negative consequences associated with capital accumulation:

"World-government": A world-system in which both answer production and distribution are controlled within a unified organization, acting in the interests of the producers and of those in need, who ultimately determine the policies of that organization.

Such statements are not particularly illuminating. Unfortunately critical analysis of the defects of the accumulation process are seldom accompanied by any clear insight into the kinds of "unified" structure which could be created to counteract the acknowledged defects of "unified organization". For example, Wallerstein notes:

"Mais il est tres difficile de prevoir les formes institutionnelles que pourrait prendre un tel ordre socialiste mondial. Le systeme interetatique devrait sans aucun doute etre remplace par une structure politique unifiee (indispensable pour prendre des decisions sociales de production a 1'echelle de I'economie-mondiale), rnais dont la forme est impossible a definir aujourd'hui." (11, p. 53)

Wallerstein does however recognize that: "II serait d'ailleurs aussi futile que dangereux d'extrapoler les formes politiques de 1'ordre socialiste mondial a partir de celles que nous connaissons actuellement..." (11, p. 53). Unfortunately, other schools of thought which do venture into explicit discussion of the "world government" structure required tend to generate just such simplistic extrapolations which take no account of the polarizing processes noted above, or else do so in a totally impractical manner.

(e) Paradox

What is refreshing about the world-system perspective is the manner in which it avoids taking present structures for granted. Both Wallerstein and Addo (13, pp. 6-7; 1 4) criticize the conventional "developmentalist" framework within which current answers have been vainly sought for two decades. Wallerstein contrasts this with the world-system perspective:

"What is crippling about a developmentalist perspective is the fact that...large-scale historical processes are not even discussable, if one uses the politico-cultural entity (the 'state') as the unit of analysis" (9, p. 352)

Equally crippling however, in attempting to understand the accumulation of significance, is the restriction of "world-system" type analyses to the limited range of material phenomena significant to a scholastic entity, namely "political economics". Other phenomena are then simply "not even discussable". The difficulty is understandable in that once the scope of the analysis is extended to non-material phenomena it is obliged to become self-reflexive (15) and include the production and distribution of world-system perspectives. Since it is an explicit characteristic of any such perspective to use political action in the "marketplace of ideas" in order to ensure its own dominance, it is difficult to see how its strategy can be distinguished from that of any other aspirant hegemony. The same is naturally true for any answer entering that marketplace or with an established place in it.