Sunday, February 16, 2014

Rational Misers, Valor, and other Marxisms

Marx's use of language always interests me. Last week, we discussed Marx's description of the commodity as a "fetish."  In this week's reading, he talks about the "valorization process" and capitalists as "rational misers."  Using the term valor for "valuation," or setting a price for a commodity designed to achieve a profit, is especially fascinating to me. I don't know the exact German, translation, but here is my point: If valor also means courage and bravery in battle, then what's the inference? Does capitalism = war? Should making money in business (i.e., making a profit from a good or service) be considered an act of courage and bravery?  For the entrepreneur and small-business owner, I'm inclined to say yes. After all, it's tough to make a buck on your own, without leverage, volume, or special interests. But for major companies that use their leverage and power to further "squeeze" their competitors and labor force, I think it's the opposite of brave or courageous. Thus, I think we should be careful not to apply all of Marx's ideas to every segment of the private sector in today's world.

On the other hand, Marx's analysis of the M-C-M seemed oddly current and postmodern. For example, when he claims that the real goal of the capitalist is not the use-value of a commodity, and not even making a profit on a single transaction, but somehow repeating the process of these profit-making transactions, i.e. "keeping the money rolling in."  That kind of logic hooks me in and makes say: Yes, Karl, I agree!  And you're right to call them "rational misers!" 

Still, the exponential increase in profit is not the aim of many businesses and business owners. My family was involved in a commercial farming operation for several kids. As a kid, I saw how hard my father and grandfather worked each year to make a return on their investment, but they didn't do it y cutting wages or laying off half their workforce. Instead, by treating their employees well, they created a positive working environment, which led to the making of higher-quality products. But eventually, the business was undercut by the pressure of competing firms that set lower and lower prices, and paid lower wages to their employees. And Marx alludes to this trend. In order to make money from a product, the manufacturer will find a way of reducing the cost of production, either by paying lower wages or making labor more efficient (more machines than workers.)  Some business owners and investors, especially if they spent a lot of money on start-up capital, will tolerate losing money or breaking even for the first 3-5 years. But if they don't start making a dime on their business, they cut their losses and get out. Unfortunately, the dirty underbelly of capitalism is how some of these businesses start becoming profitable.

1 comment:

  1. I was also intrigued this week by the use of “valorization” in the translation. Being German ignorant, I definitely craved a better understanding of how the texture of “Verwertung” may differ from the impact of the English translation. With some light research, it appears as if the term typically has a much smaller, more technical usage, but clearly there is potential to unpack it further?

    Your teasing out of the implied metaphor in Marx resonates with me as well. I found myself really picking up on the constitutive functions of production. Obviously, Marx had many implications for the literal creation of the classes and the alienation of workers from the products of their labor. However, the rhetorical construction of the as an ideograph is making my brain happy. Furthermore, Marx’s discussion of the worker as lazy while the abstinent and pious capitalist can do no wrong clearly has gained traction and continued recirculation in contemporary welfare and government entitlement debates. Surely, there is more to spin out, but I can see the connections to cultural theory bubbling up and am hungry for more.


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