Theses for a Post-humanist economics

Moniac Economic Computer

This is neither a manifesto or a manual. It is a call to rethink the paradigm of change. The purpose of these theses is neither to analyse, argue, persuade or convince, but only to provoke.

Core

1. The measure of man is not the means of his liberation but the condition of his slavery.

2. Although the economic categories of cost, distribution and production are interrelated, we choose to start with cost. The last half-century has made it more and more clear that the capitalist system is costing us the earth. This increasingly inescapable fact is fast becoming the most urgent problem challenging humanity. What is it about our current cost system that seems incapable of avoiding the increasing destruction of our own environmental and ecological preconditions?

3. The accounting of costs requires a solution to the problem of measure.

4. There are three possible responses to the cost question. The first, conservative option is to do nothing. The second, reformist option, is to try to add environmental costs into the existing market price mechanisms. The final, radical response, is a full inversion of our current cost system.

5. We have measured our labour in order to gain control of the earth, now we must measure the earth to gain control of our labour. Human productive power has transformed the relation between land and labour. Whereas before we had a scarcity of labour and an abundance of land, now we have an abundance of labour and a scarcity of land. Given that economics is the management of scarcity it is clear that we must move from a labour-based cost system to a land/natural resources-based cost system.

6. This is a Copernican revolution in our model of the human world. We must overturn the humanist principle - that man is the measure of all things. It is increasingly inescapable that if humanity is to have a future, man can no longer be the measure of all things.

7. Socialist humanist has mistaken the appearance of capitalist society - the appearance that the commodity is at the centre of society, having displaced humanity - for it's reality. Consequently, socialist humanism's solution to the alienation of capitalist society is to put man back at the centre of our society and organise the economy by fair exchanges based on the measure of labour - the labour notes utopia based on "the right to the full produce of labour". From the Quaker John Bellers proposal of 1695, through the National Equitable Labour Exchange labour notes system of Robert Owen and John Gray, Proudhon's mutual banks, or the schemes of the council communist GIK and the Marxist Humanists, to the "balanced job complexes" of Parecon, this ever-green perennial inexhaustibly springs forth as a new and original idea to each generation.

8. It is said that generals always prepare to fight the last war but one. Socialist humanism is attempting to win a victory that capitalism has already won. In his 'Fetishism of the Commodity and Its Secret', Marx already showed that the secret was that, contrary to appearance, the measure of exchange value by labour time was, in reality, already at the centre of society - and that it was capitalism that had put it there. This is why socialist humanism's endless attempts to re-centre our world around man's measure can only ever re-create capitalism, never overcome it.

9. The effect of commodity fetishism is that we falsely perceive that our world revolves around things rather than people. "We should be everything, but we are nothing". The resulting error is to think that by putting "man" at the centre of our world, we will effect our emancipation. But the error is that man is already at the centre of our world, what is required is a Copernican revolution, to put the earth at the centre of our world and humans travelling around its periphery. Counter-intuitively this displacement of man from the centre of our cultural solar system is not to be re-enslaved to an external or transcendant authority, but to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of our own alienated potential.

10. The measure of socially necessary abstract labour time is the measure of capital, not the measure of labour. The bosses measure is the measure of the boss. By the apparent contradiction that the measure of labour is not the measure of labour, we mean that the measuring of labourer's contribution to the social product is not our possession but our dispossession - not an exercise of our own power, but an exercise of power over us, against us. Capital's relation of command-power is precisely the power to measure. It divides humanity into the measured and those who measure us.

11. In the matter of measuring the cost of our productive activities relative to natural resources we must recognise that such costs are multiple, fundamentally incommensurable and their management must be empirical and non-linear. By non-linear, we mean that the only way to manage certain costs is to set an absolute upper limit on them. In such cases the aggregate limit can only be distributed as allowances to members of society. Given the greatest contribution to the reproduction of natural resources comes from outside of human labour, it seems that the only distrubutive principle for allocating such allowances likely to be accepted as agreeable to the majority of humanity, is an egalitarian one.

12. Post-humanism is no more to be confused with anti-humanism than anti-fascism is to be confused with post-fascism. To be fundamentally opposed to the aims and direction of a movment is an altogether different thing than to support its line of travel, but to recognise that it's own internal contradictions will forever bar it from attaining its goal. That the only way to attain that goal is to create a new assemblage that rejects the contradictory elements and retains the positive aspects. The goal of post-humanism remains the liberation of humanity, but neither by means of putting an idealised, essentialised "Man" in the place formerly occupied by God, nor by placing the measure of human labour at the centre of our world.

13. From cost we must move to the question of distribution. How should the relationship of the producers to the social product be determined? There are only two answers to this question. Either we have: Differential distribution, where producers receive a differential share of the social product in proportion to the measured value of their contribution to production; or we have: Equal distribution, where all producers receive an equal share of the social product, regardless of their individual contribution. Equal or fair? That is the distribution question, along with it's corollary - Exactly how fair is fair?

14. But distributive relationship cannot be considered in isolation from productive relationships. In the case of differential distribution we are again faced with the problem of measure. In this case a measure of contribution in proportion to which individuals are to be given differential shares of the social product. This process of measure is one that pits the interests of the individual against the interests of all other individuals and thus of society at large. The problem of measure becomes a competitive problem. Again, as the relations of distribution cannot be practically separated from the relations of distribution, this competitive problem necessarily shapes productive relations.

15. The problematic of measure of socially necessary labour has three aspects: the knowledge problem, the attribution problem, the dependency problem.

16. The knowledge problem obstructs the relation between producer and consumer, between consumer and producer, between producer and producer and between consumer and consumer. The problem between producer and consumer is the doctor/mechanic problem. The problem between the consumer and the producer is the "market knowledge" problem. The problem between producer and producer is the "trade secret" problem. The problem between consumer and consumer is the hoarding problem.

16.a. The Doctor/Mechanic problem is caused by an unavoidable knowledge asymmetry between client and service provider. The client has no way of knowing if the service provider is "fixing" the client's issue at the cheapest price or is milking the maximum of payments from them. It is not in the interest of a doctor to cure a rich patient, when he or she can keep them coming back for more expensive procedures and medicines. Similarly the car mechanic's interest is not only to assess the condition of the car, but also the ability of the owner to pay for work on it.

16.b. The market knowledge problem is simply the producer's inability to gauge the actual demand from consumers for a product. Consequently there is always the possibility of wasteful production for which there turns out to be no demand. There is an entire market research industry within capitalism to mitigate this problem, but it does not constitute a solution.

16.c. The trade secret problem has two aspects, one related to planning and the other to productivity enhancements. In terms of planning, competitors concealing their future plans from each other for commercial advantage, may again lead two or more enterprises to try and meet the same demand, again resulting in overproduction and waste. The second aspect is the concealing of productivity-enhancing knowledge by producers from each other. This is particularly significant in that the combination of knowledge is not simply additive. By sharing individual fragments of knowledge freely, it is often possible to derive new knowledge which is greater in effect than the sum of its parts.

16.d. The hoarding problem is partly a knowledge problem and partly an effect of private property and economic insecurity. It is the waste occasioned by individual consumers not sharing the existence of unused tools or means of consumption for fear of losing the future possibility of using them due to damage or non-replacement.

17. Despite the diverse anatomy of the different aspects of the knowledge problem, they are all aspects of the same issue. That knowledge is a force of production in its own right and that competitive relations of capitalist society obstruct the growth of that force, which thrives and multiplies best with free sharing and is stunted and stifled by occultation, enclosure and attempts to leverage advantage.

18. The attribution problem is the difficulty in determining the magnitude of individual contributions to collective production. This expands beyond the individuals directly interacting in a given production process, to include the ancillary work to build, maintain and clean their workplace, and to transport them there. Beyond that is the question of the contribution of those who have imparted the knowledge necessary for the producers to produce. This problem was first raised by Hodgskin, developed by Thompson, elaborated by Kropotkin and of late has inspired the theorists of "immaterial labour". Another aspect of the attribution problem is the question of relative effort. Given that individuals are unequal in their innate capacities, be they physical or mental, is it right that those who have to struggle to achieve the socially average level of productivity be rewarded the same as those for whom the same production requires a minimum of effort?

19. The dependency problem is the question of distribution to that section of humanity who, at any given time, are not capable of contributing to social production through either extremity of age, illness or temporary incapacity due to injury or late term pregnancy and a multitude of other routine reasons. Consequently, in a contribution-based distribution system, there must be some degree of redistribution from active producers to non-contributing dependant members of society. That redistribution can either be by individual dependency relations mediated by kinship or other non-market interpersonal social relations, or by social redistribution. The case of individual dependency necessarily raises the problems of potential tyranny over dependants by providers and unequal burdens on individual producers regardless of their earning potential. A system of social provision for dependants raises the problem of creating an organisation for deducting distribution share from producers and allocating them to dependants, in a word taxation and an administration of tax collectors and welfare payment officers.

Supplemental

20. There is no barter economy and there never has been. All those who wish to return money to a convertibility with gold and abolish fractional-reserve banking are saying is that they love capitalism, they just don't like the way it works. The notion that the exchange system is the ultimate development of reciprocity, evolving through barter, is purely ideological and masks the mutually incompatible principles that differentiate them.

21. Exchange is not reciprocity and reciprocity is not exchange. Neither are barter. Reciprocity is complementary - unlike for unlike. Exchange is always the exchange of money for something else. It is competitive - like competes with like. Barter does not represent a midpoint or transition phase between reciprocity and exchange, but is always a satellite process of one or the other mode.

22. Capitalism's system of exchange is presented by its apologists as a system of reciprocity, a mutualist system whereby every exchange transaction is beneficial to each party by definition. By contrast we claim that the system of exchange is a system of mutual beggary, based not on mutual benefit or aid, but the competitive principle of 'beggar thy neighbour'.

23. In believeing that both sides of an exchange gain from the transaction the economic liberal must either believe that a magic creation of value is created in the transaction, whereby both parties gain a net addition of value by it, or discount any theory of value altogether, the more popular choice these days. Socialist humanists, by contrast believe that value is not created in the act of exchange, but an unequal exchange can result in a net transfer from one party to the other.  We by contrast, hold that while there may be net transfers of value from one party to another, in all exchanges there is a net transfer of value from either or both parties to the commoditised money itself.

24. As to whether value truly exists or not, we say this: Our intellectual culture is so marked by centuries of wrangling over the existence of non-existence of god that we are biased towards considering the most significant questions to be the Platonic questions of existence and truth. By contrast, empirical reasoning means the question is not whether value exists or is true, but 'does it work'? Is it operative? Can we observe its effects and judge the magnitude of its effects relative to other determinations? The intractability or otherwise of calculating absolute or relative quanta of value is a different problem from the question of whether the process of measuring value dominates our productive activity, economy and society. The transformation problem is only a problem for those who wish to measure value in order to use it rather than those who wish to escape its measure in order to no longer be used by it.

25. Capitalism forces everything into a commodity form - even money, which predates capitalism. Specifically capitalist money is the commodity form of money. This is not to be confused with commodity money. Commodity money is money made from a commodity. Commoditised money is a commodity made from money, regardless of its origin. The price of gold is not to be confused with the price of money.

 

26. Rather than think of commodity as a thing, we should think of commoditisation. That is, that "commodity" is not an either-or state, but a degree of commoditisation that affects all processes of production and reproduction in capitalist society to a greater or lesser extent. Goods, services, land, labour and money are subject to increasing processes of commoditisation in capitalist society.

 

27. No one ever plans to have an accident and break their leg in the coming week. Consequently the production of crutches cannot be based on planning based on individual's forecasts of their own demands. Neither can production be carried out entirely on an ad-hoc, "just-in-time" basis. All economic systems must therefore be mixed economies that combine planned and contingent demand elements. Although contingent demand cannot be predicted on an individual level, it can be estimated on an aggregate level for a sufficiently large population using statistical methods based on past data. It is possible to estimate the number of crutches to produce in a given period before the eventual end-users are aware that they are going to need them. Production based on these statistical forecasting methods is speculative rather than planned, but none the worse for that. In capitalism speculation is necessarily speculation for profit, not need, and has consequently acquired negative associations. These associations should not blind us to the utility of speculative production for need.

 

  


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