Archive for July, 2009

From Martin Gardner

July 22, 2009

Martin Gardner, The Night is Large, Collected Essays 1938-1995

You can cage a swallow; can’t you, but you can’t swallow a cage, can you?

The title of the book is from Lord Dunsany.


July 14, 2009

A packet of Parry’s sugar was Rs 28/-.  1 kg. (At Savita Stores).

Dare I say it?

July 14, 2009

The line between labour and leisure is becoming, for me, increasingly blurred.

But then again its the difference between being in office and being at home.

The nature of labour

July 14, 2009

The nature of labour has changed over the ages.  The posture has changed.  From stooping, bowing in the fields, to the elegant stance of a modern day waiter.  With this change in posture has come a corresponding change in consciousness.  Modern man has at his disposal some very powerful tools.  Tools with which man labours.  Like a hammer and a sickle.  Or a laptop.  What you do, influences which muscles you develop.  And in dealing with computers, it is not only our fingers that get stronger.  Which brings me back to techne and mode of production.  What does the labour of a farmer teach him?  What of a futures trader?  And over time one would like to trace the trajectories of the various sectors, employment sectors by some standard statistical scheme; and see which ones grew and which ones shrank.  These trends could be forecast out to project what the profile of employment would be in the future.  Without looking at the data, I can safely assert that out of the entire human annual waking hours in the adult population, an increasingly larger proportion of time is being spent by people working at monitors, or engaged in interaction with an electronic device.  Wonder what that says about the nature of labour in the future.

Error correction

July 10, 2009

A few blog posts ago, when I was in the throes of unemployment, I wrote about the problem of employment as a the economist sees it, or as the central  planner sees it, and found it to be easily solvable.  Just divide the amount of labour required by the number of people who can work, and voila, you’ve solved the employment problem.

But recently reading an old economics textbook it dawned on me that I was in error.  Or at least partial error.  It is last year’s requirement of labour that is a known datum today.  How much is to be produced this year is an unknown quantity.  The economy, the population has increased since last year, and what was produced last year when distributed over a larger base of population will result in less for some.  Less than what they got last year.

So this led me to think of what a Russian colleague of mine, who I was lucky to meet this year, had said to me while comparing Russia and America.  Russia, he had said, is like a zoo.  Everyone gets an assured portion, even if it is not so big or glamorous.  America, in contrast, is like a jungle, with everyone trying to seize as much as possible for himself, regardless of the cost to others.  So here we have again the question posited in the early chapters of Samuelson-what to produce and for whom.  Russia tried solving this problem, and today it looks like their methods failed.  What old Prof. Leontief had said in class was that the USSR tried to solve the problem without imagination.  Today when I reflect on that, I think what he meant was that the Russian Gosplan does not take into account the psychology of the human participants in the economic drama.  People, with their dreams and aspirations, their varied motives.

Yet, having said this, I haven’t said enough.  Because the choice between consuming more than your stomach can hold, and consuming rather less, but using the freed up time in productive pursuits such as art, music, or poetry; in self development, not just putting on weight, remains.  And it is this choice that is at the heart of the debate between Left and Right.

We start with production

July 1, 2009

We start with production.  Consumption possibilities are strictly defined and constrained by the then prevailing technology.  There have been in the past, veritable orgies of consumption, including but not restricted to, women, slaves of either sex, herds, maybe simply because the possibilities of other consumption were so limited.  One can consume what one’s stomach will accomodate.  Today one can consume a laptop, but wanton sacrifice is proscribed.

(Consuming a laptop can be seen as using it up.  Maybe it just blows out, like a filament bulb, one day.)

I know I am thinking of Bataille when I write about the profusion of productivity.  Bataille spent eighteen years writing The Accursed Share.  His ideas on the General Economy.  Wherein Nature is seen as abundant, plentiful, fecund, and productive.  (The green grass that springs up between the cracks of pavement stones.)  (The moss that grows green.)  The General Economy is fruitful, because of the giant sacrifice of the sun, which gives of itself, but does not receive.  Trees fruit.  Cattle multiply.  And the natural economies (in the Weberian sense of the term) are marked by great spoliations of wealth, where wealth is destroyed in vast sacrifices, or the giving of gifts.

Thus it is the relations of production, and not those of consumption that determine our consciousnesses.  With each given technology matrix, is an implied structure of the labour force.  Nowadays, work has taken the form of sitting  in front of computers.  That is what I see when I go to work every day.  People sitting in front of monitors.  With each structure of the labour force is an associated class structure.  That is, I propose, that the technology matrix is producing a class structure.

This class structure will be reflected in the consumption bundles.  What the various classes consume (here think of class as a cluster of points in many dimensioned space, or alternatively as a fuzzy relation of inclusion in a set) will determine what is produced.

We all brush our teeth daily.  We use a certain amount of toothpaste every day.  It all adds up.  And when you put it all in front of you, globally, you get the market for toothpaste in the world.  The space of consumptions is many dimensioned, and some substitution is possible and some movement of the optimum choice can be countenanced.  But basically the linear assumption works fine.  The proportions between your consumption of toothpaste and your consumption of cooking oil are fairly stable.  So: so many people have to make toothpaste.  And so many people have to make cooking oil.

So now we see that a certain use of the labour force is implied.  That, in turn, implies a certain social consciousness.