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Mr. Rowe meet Mr. Spinoza

I once had a friend, back in undergrad, who upon retiring from her third year class in economics pronounced: Abstinence is the key to capitalist accumulation. As luck would have it, I, at the time, was reading Marx and chuckling over the following footnote from Capital, Vol. 1, S3 titled Separation of Surplus Value into Capital and Revenue The Abstinence Theory. .

He [Mill] is as much at home in absurd contradictions, as he feels at sea in the Hegelian contradictions, the source of all dialectic. It has never occurred to the vulgar economist to make the simple reflection, that every human action may be viewed as ‘abstinence’ from its opposite. Eating is abstinence from fasting, walking abstinence from standing still, working abstinence from idling, idling abstinence from working, etc. These gentlemen would do well to ponder, once in a way, over Spinoza’s Determinatio est Negatio.

Nick Rowe manages one better he single handedly revives both the abstinence theory of capital and the thrift theory of capitalist development while arguing that poor people are poor well because they can’t wait. Too which I would add that patience is a virgin.

There is an old joke about racist jokes that goes something like this. First Nations dude pulls up in a used car, European dude says to his wife “you see those Indians just can’t take care of their shit. Two weeks later First Nations dude pulls up in a new 4 X 4 and European dude says you see what they waste their money on?”

The contemporary equivalent is: “so this guy applies for a job and I want to give it to him but all he has is a home number with no voice mail, so I offered the job to the next guy on the list with a cell number. Oh the world is fked I tell ya. I mean listen to this. So I was walking down Queen street in Toronto yesterday and some street guy asks me for money. I was going to give him a loony but then I saw he had a cell phone and I thought fk him, what does he need a cell phone for?”

Back to the main course. Is work the opposite of leisure? Depends on what you mean. Is paid work the opposite of unpaid work? The answer yes. The first is a question spuriously posed. What is meant by work, is obligation; not work as the economists are using the term. Work as the economists are using the term is anything that is directly compensated. Its real antithesis is work that is not directly compensated and not leisure. Leisure is what we do when we want and without any regard to the consequences. True leisure is frivolous pleasure. Work, compensated or not, may involve pleasure but it is not leisure. Economists like Rowe have made a good run of their lives collapsing non essential distinctions and running like Hegelian rock turners into the wind.

I think this is what Marx had in mind with his metaphor. Indeed, a withering invective that outside of war or revolution has no purchase.

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3 thoughts on “Mr. Rowe meet Mr. Spinoza

  1. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, Travis. It’s part of my four 0’clock post at ecological headstand tomorrow. In Foundations of Economic Analysis, Paul Samuelson wrote:

    Twenty-one years later (1968) Dr. Samuelson was a signatory to an economists’ statement calling for a guaranteed annual income. I have an embedded link to a reproduction of the statement in my post.

    What puzzles me is not his disapproval of a minimum income in 1947 or his subsequent reversal but the mathematical logic that leads from a minimum income scheme to forcing “the rest of society to give up leisure.” I suspect it had something to do with the tautology of “revealed preferences”.

  2. Whoops misunderstood the formating tags.

    Stop me if you’ve heard this one, Travis. It’s part of my four 0’clock post at ecological headstand tomorrow. In Foundations of Economic Analysis, Paul Samuelson wrote:

    Thus, we might decide that everyone should have at least a minimum income, that Society will make up the deficiency between what the less fortunate can earn and this minimum. Once this is realized by those who fall below the minimum, there is no longer an incentive for them to work at the margin, at least in pecuniary material terms. This is clearly bad social policy, not because I have a vulgar prejudice in favor of work and against leisure. On the contrary, the increases in real income in the years ahead probably will be spent in considerable degree on leisure. It is wrong because it forces the rest of society to give up leisure.

    Twenty-one years later (1968) Dr. Samuelson was a signatory to an economists’ statement calling for a guaranteed annual income. I have an embedded link to a reproduction of the statement in my post.

    What puzzles me is not his disapproval of a minimum income in 1947 or his subsequent reversal but the mathematical logic that leads from a minimum income scheme to forcing “the rest of society to give up leisure.” I suspect it had something to do with the tautology of “revealed preferences”.

  3. Maybe he sat down with an owner and they had a drink and they realized that full employment entailed a host of efficiency evils that more than outweighed any hypothetical leisure loss. That is a revealed preference of sorts…to a layman.

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