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A Note on Marx’s extraction of Surplus Value

October 11, 2019

My accepted position on the error of Marx’s economics has been that the notion of surplus value is artificially wrenched from the social and economic production process in order to provide a target for the poorer classes in their complaints of exploitation. I don’t think we can separate out the production that is “necessary” to reproduce a society from the surplus in a quantitative way. And the reason is that our concept of what is “necessary” changes over time as our needs are satisfied. This suggestion can be seen through the work of Abraham Maslow on the hierarchy of needs, for instance.

What I mean here comes in two main steps: Firstly, it is that any production process already implies an over production of some sort. The very concept of production is tied up with over production at all times. There is no mythical original state where we only produce what we need, for instance, and nothing more. This is a typical myth of origins that we see engaged in by most or all enlightenment era thinkers on society. Just like Rousseas myth of the noble savage or Hobbes’ myth of the war of all against all, or Locke’s myth of an original social contract.

The reason I say this of the concept of production is that no one produces anything when they are in a true state of necessity. When we are in survival mode, we are only intent on finding a way to survive right now, we don’t have time to think of producing something. The very idea of producing already entails people who have gone beyond this survival condition, and so, as in Maslow, they have needs beyond the natural needs, and part of their production is going to feed those needs inevitably.

So, and this is the second step, we cannot then turn to producers and say, that they are expropriating everything beyond what is necessary to reproduce society. Because, no one who produces things only produces what is necessary. They were already always producing something more than what was necessary, and with the increased advances in their production, the concept, at least  of what they perceive as necessary changes and expands to cover more things.

It is well and good to then turn to them and say, these are only psychological needs, not true material needs, so we are going to expropriate them for those who have material needs, but for the producers, it is tied to their very concept and identity as producers to have these extra needs. If you attempt somehow to take away all the surplus from them you take away their motivation to BE a producer. You put them into a state of scarcity where they won’t have the freedom to produce, and so you will end up undermining the production of the society.

So, for all that these may be merely “psychological” needs. There are two options when you try to extract all the surplus for those more needy of basic needs. Either you meet resistance by people who refuse to accept a reduction of themselves to necessity, and so they remain producers and they continue to “exploit” people by taking that surplus for themselves, or they surrender the surplus, and then become no longer producers, and a void of production is created in that part of society. A short term stealing of valuable things is achieved, for those of the “revolution”, but longer term production is inevitably stultified.

This, I think, is the refutation of Marx’s historical materialism at the core of his doctrine. It shows that he has rigged people, insofar as they follow his ideas of value, production, over production and surplus value, into seeing a perpetual dialectical cycle of exploitation and conflict. Far from there being this natural conflict between classes, Marx has helped to create it with his misguided belief that you can extract and delineate and quantify the difference between production and over production and value and surplus value. It is not to say we cannot to some extent separate out these concepts. The point is that we cannot draw a clear line, and this mythical ideal of their being a clear line, is what leads to a sense of dissatisfaction and exploitation and also to a total misunderstanding of how human motivation works and of how we value things in society. Maybe Marx himself would not always say there is a clear line, but it certainly seems to be the legacy of his ideas that most people have taken from them. And it is the basis of why people turn it into an issue of social justice.

These at least, are my opening thoughts on the subject. I guess they are a quick summary and overview of ideas I reached in my head about Marx many years ago from my study. By bringing it explicitly down to paper, maybe I can advance further in my thoughts. Anyway, it is my plan to look into some interpretations of Marx, and see if they have any better level of insight than this.

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