Where's the abundance?

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wojtek
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Jul 11 2013 17:18
Where's the abundance?

It's said by some that capitalist crisis is material abundance presented as scarcity so where's the abundance? S'Go.

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Joseph Kay
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Jul 11 2013 18:15

Well, the most obvious thing is digital media.

Food: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jan/10/half-world-food-waste

Housing: http://libcom.org/blog/there-no-housing-shortage-05122012

What percentage of household income goes on music/films/food/housing? Gotta be a lot right there.

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Cooked
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Jul 11 2013 20:12
Joseph Kay wrote:
Well, the most obvious thing is digital media.
...
What percentage of household income goes on music/films/food/housing? Gotta be a lot right there.

I don't undestand this answer considering the question. I've totally missed the digital media scarcity going on wink And how could it ever be considered abundance in any real sense to have access to lots of recorded music? I must be missing something here.

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Joseph Kay
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Jul 11 2013 20:33

In the sense that growing up, a big chunk of my money went on going to the cinema with mates or buying cassettes/CDs. Now, films and music are abundant and available at basically zero cost via bittorrent etc. So while there's attempts to reimpose scarcity via intellectual property, digital media has partially escaped the commodity form.

Of course you can't eat mp3s, so material abundance is probably more important, if the point of reference is full communism.

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RedEd
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Jul 12 2013 00:09

Isn't the main point that capitalism relies on social conventions of scarcity to function (markets, including the labour market, require it to function). And that communism relies on abundance, in some sense, to function. There has to be enough for everyone to be assured the means of life. Capitalism increasingly keeps running up against this issue in it's own internal logic: it's productive capacity creates too much abundance, and the system can't handle it because of inflation, lack of labour control, etc. Which means capitalism has to have unproductive labour and crises to sort itself out. So that sets the stage for a system a bit more comfortable dealing with abundance.

I think it's in that way that the capitalism=scarcity, communism=abundance thing makes sense.

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ultraviolet
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Jul 12 2013 15:34

wait... are people saying that we can't have communism if there's scarcity? because there's a pretty significant chance that scarcity will be the reality of things once we finally get around to having a world wide revolution. climate change is going to really fuck things up.

even if we had the revolution tomorrow, and immediately began transitioning to green energy, we'd probably still be seeing significant increase in climate change and related damage, because (1) it takes quite a long time to make the switch to green energy, and (2) the impacts of greenhouse gasses continue working their damage and creating feedback loops even after we've stopped emitting them.

i think we can have functional communism with scarcity (they did it on annares in "the dispossessed" novel! LOL) ... i hope i'm right! ... though i guess it's one of those things you can't predict whether it will work, it has to be tried to see.

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Agent of the In...
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Jul 12 2013 18:34
ultraviolet wrote:
wait... are people saying that we can't have communism if there's scarcity?

Yep. And if we can't get abundance, we can at least aspire to something that's just as good. But it won't be without trouble.

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RedEd
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Jul 12 2013 22:21
ultraviolet wrote:
wait... are people saying that we can't have communism if there's scarcity? because there's a pretty significant chance that scarcity will be the reality of things once we finally get around to having a world wide revolution. climate change is going to really fuck things up

I would expect that sufficient absolute scarcity over a long period of time does make communism untenable. A baseline of availability of the means of life seems like it might be necessary. If there is not enough for everybody to have enough, the logic of communism seems to break down. To be simplistic, 'to each according to their needs' does require a certain level of production, however you look at it.

Having said that, in periods of crisis we tend to see communism-like behaviour as common response. Even when there is not enough to sustain the basics of one's mode of life, disaster seems to bring out communistic solutions in many scenarios. I'm thinking particularly of natural disasters and sudden conflict here. This sort of response suggests that absolute scarcity during a revolutionary period is not only no particular threat to communism, but may even encourage it, provided the crisis communism of revolution can be translated into a subsequent abundant communism. The degeneration of the Russian Revolution is often talked about in terms of the failure to do this, and I think it is one significant factor amongst quite a few.

I think it's important to examine what abundance and scarcity might mean from a historical perspective. Scarcity is the reality or threat of not being able to carry on a mode of life acceptable in a given social context. Abundance is the assurance of being able to do that, and to have the tools to participate in the further purposive development of that way of life.

Even in times of severe crisis, modern capitalism has far more than the necessary absolute levels of food, communications, housing, etc. on a global level to allow for an abundant society, despite its startling regional variations.

Ablokeimet
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Jul 13 2013 03:44
RedEd wrote:
I would expect that sufficient absolute scarcity over a long period of time does make communism untenable.

Red Ed is quite correct. If there isn't enough to go around, sooner or later some group of people will be successful at ensuring that they have enough, even if everyone else goes short.

What constitutes "enough to go around", however, is not something that can be neatly defined. It depends on the expectations of the community concerned, since needs are socially determined. What can be said, however, is that it's better to have none of a given product than some, but not enough. Communism would have a better chance of survival if there were no umbrellas at all, for example, than if there were half as many iPods as people who wanted one. This is despite the fact that umbrellas are surely a more important need than iPods.

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ultraviolet
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Jul 13 2013 23:20

so what do people propose that we do if the revolution inherits a world ravaged by climate change, with real (not artificial) scarcity? an indefinite period of collectivism that lasts until the environment is healed enough, or our productive capacities adapted enough to the new environmental context, for there to be abundance and therefore communism? or would you recommend communism with heavy rationing?

Harrison
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Jul 14 2013 02:08

hopefully cold hard science would sort us out - maybe self-organised genetic modification to give us gills and fins to live in the sea

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Joseph Kay
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Jul 14 2013 10:07

I think we need to be clear what we mean by abundance. i.e. there's enough food to meet everyone's calorie needs, but not everyone can have Kobe beef every meal. there's the capacity to put a roof over everyone's head but not for everyone to live in penthouses or mansions (though, they could be timeshared or made available by other means, drawing lots, prizes, whatever).

Historically, it's worth noting the 'science of scarcity', economics, was developed in response to the massive productivity gains of the industrial revolution, which eclipsed subsistence production. 'Scarcity' only became a problem at all in the context of mass production. And capitalism treats things that are scarce (e.g. ecological limits, our time) as inexhaustible resources, while imposing an artificial scarcity elsewhere to maintain profits (intellectual property, planned obsolescence, food/housing markets etc).

yourmum
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Jul 14 2013 21:21

no milk for money - scarcity
no money for milk - capitalism.

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ultraviolet
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Jul 25 2013 17:30
Joseph Kay wrote:
I think we need to be clear what we mean by abundance. i.e. there's enough food to meet everyone's calorie needs, but not everyone can have Kobe beef every meal. there's the capacity to put a roof over everyone's head but not for everyone to live in penthouses or mansions (though, they could be timeshared or made available by other means, drawing lots, prizes, whatever).

somehow i missed this answer until now. i'm glad i saw it now because it cleared things up for me. (thanks! smile ) although i think the word "sufficiency" applies to this better than the word "abundance".

Joseph Kay wrote:
And capitalism treats things that are scarce (e.g. ecological limits, our time) as inexhaustible resources, while imposing an artificial scarcity elsewhere to maintain profits (intellectual property, planned obsolescence, food/housing markets etc).

this is a really good point!