Capitalism as Hegel's Motion of Spirit. Marx, Neurath, Mises ....

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Apr 21 2012 05:56
Capitalism as Hegel's Motion of Spirit. Marx, Neurath, Mises ....

Hegel wrote about the Spirit (Geist) as something determining historical progress, the state being the contemporary embodiment of that Spirit. There are varying interpretations of the metaphysical or even spiritual implications of this but Marx was influenced by these ideas and many criticise him for it and what is called historical determinism. What I am thinking is that the attempts to find a common unit of account, essentially bringing all people and the environment under one logic, is that Spirit and is, today at least, capitalism.

Since Marx, but also Aristotel, a distinction has been drawn between the exchange value and use value. The use value being the satisfaction of needs that one gets from a commodity, or service, while the exchange value is only the ratio between that commodity and another.

The debate between Mises and Neurath regarding socialist calculation and a rational economy has the question of commensurability at its heart. Neurath claimed that people could calculate in kind what was needed and just say ok we need 15 labor hours here and 33 tones of coal there or whatever, and for that reason the whole economy should be planned so that we provide the things that are needed. Mises was critical of this view and, I would think successfully, counters with the point that this may be the case with one's immediate consumption but not for means of production and other social projects. The use value can be identified for a particular individual but when we get to larger aggregations use value is simply too complex for any one authority to calculate and only exchange value is an objective measure of value.

As always both sides are right but neither side is really right. Mises fails to recognise that there are things outside the 'economy' that we value and that we value in such a way that we would not want to put a price on it. Neurath on the other hand doesn't see that without market signals the allocation of resources becomes impossible as there is no other method by which to adjudicate between competing values, that there is no commensurability. The abstraction from use to exchange value is the only alternative abstraction possible when we disagree on what use values we are trying to achieve. The lowest common denominator must be either a particular use value which you think is the one everyone needs, or is exchange value which is essentially the same claim just exchange itself is deemed useful.

Now since Aristotel we have criticisms of production for exchange rather than use and the whole problems associated with the profit motive. The goods are made so that they sell rather than them performing a particular function because the motive is to generate more and not to satisfy a need. Aristotel is critical because this is a quantity and not a quality that is being sought. And seeking quantity has no end so thats not a goal worth striving towards.

The whole of society creates an abstract kind of value it is pursuing based on an abstraction from all of its constituent parts. Be it a particular use value or exchange value (because a forever increasing value which can be exchanged for particular uses can satisfy any use) either posits itself as a universal value. That universal value is the Spirit that is being manifested in history. As capitalism has its crises, its logic of valuation spreads in accordance with its ambition to satisfy all needs and wants; to be universal. Capitalism is then the Spirit manifesting itself and manifesting this totality in logic and functioning. The abstraction from the individual to the community. It is then through this process of unifying all under one logic of value that the Spirit can manifest itself as the unified community that it sees itself as. Then only when we are all completely subject to this logic will the Spirit be truly manifest and we will all immediately identify with the established logic and value. Yet, of course this is never perfectly complete as the very motion towards this universality is always against the dialectic background of 'others' who must be included under the same logic or a new more universal logic and hence the process is perpetual and inevitably a series of crises and recoveries.