|Picture credit: SP-Studio|
What runs through most of my writings is a subjectivist approach to life, springing from a deep and pervasive desire to emancipate myself from any cozy pattern of thought that has been established or greatly influenced by prejudices, political opportunism, hypocrisy and convention. I simply do not want to be cast into a mould or conform unwittingly with whatever others—all others—may hold dear. For that reason I proceed to question every shibboleth, practice or theory I find worth deconstructing, always with the tacit understanding that I may not necessarily be expounding on any sort of truth myself, but quite possibly on yet another profound fallacy or tissue of illusions. Concerns on truth per se notwithstanding, I often find myself arguing that "there is no such thing as ..." followed by the concept which I elaborate on.
One day over lunch, I was regaling (or testing the patience of) my friends with some unconventional ideas of mine on national sovereignty and identity, both of which I consider artificial to say the least. At some point a person whom I came to befriend in the most bizarre and unexpected of ways one could ever imagine, made a very valid joke over my attitude to question established truths and perceptions, which made me reply, in a similarly humorous fashion, that I even disagree with the mathematical proposition of 1 + 1 = 2. Of course the discussion was carried out in a light spirit and soon ran off into another tangent. My statement in that context was never meant to be substantive, but rather to exaggerate an accurate remark made by my friend on my tendency to criticize. Nevertheless my disagreement with the mathematical truism was not at all a joke; I really do believe that 1 plus 1 does not necessarily equal 2, or more fully, I often myself confronted with the realization that 1 + 1 ≠ 2.
Mathematics is considered to be a precise science, yet this may only hold true in a perfectly abstract province of thought, where again generalizations are prerequisites to any path in mathematical knowledge. The number 1 for instance is supposed to be an absolute and universal truth, yet this scarcely ever is the case in the complexity of the real world for 1 is in fact a constantly self-differentianing concept that may only be considered '1' after all epistemological concerns are sacrificed to the altars of expediency and practicality.
1 qua 1 does not exist. A more precise way of putting it is to claim that 1α ≠ 1β ≠ 1γ ≠ ... ≠ 1ν where ν = ∞. To put it in linguistic form, it is more correct and precise to suggest that 1 exists in an infinite array of 1 all of which are in a dynamic process of constant, even though marginal, differentiation from one another. I wish not tread on this purely theoretical insight, at least not for the time being, for it might prove too tedious a task for a mere blog post, yet I shall apply this simple syllogism to capital theory so as to illustrate my radically subjective approach to the topic now under discussion.
Economists use the generic term capital in almost every single piece of work they produce. The word may be applied to a variety of situations, with the function of providing a descriptive term to substantially different things. In modern macroeconomics "capital" is seen as yet another holistic aggregate which is, for the sake of mathematical convenience, considered homogeneous. As such we often witness economists propounding theories on how to increase the capital stock or to control and manipulate capital flows etc. As important as these issues may be to the politician and decision-maker, it is the task of the judicious theorist or economist to reject such aggregative conceptualizations as epistemologically erroneous and misleading.
Capital is heterogeneous and the capital structure is always dependent on time, or rather on the interrelations and complementarities that are formed in the passage of time. Different types of capital goods may not be summed up together as their use-values may be antithetical to one another. For instance a building may be considered 'capital' if it is deployed for certain uses. Its value qua capital exists in e.g. performing a number of specific functions, such as housing a production process. A cannon may also be considered 'capital' with its use-value being, inter alia to destroy buildings. Assuming a simple world these two together may not be valuable at the same time, for one may only have use-value at the expense of the other; the building has value for as long as it remains standing, while the cannon is valuable only if it demolishes buildings. Under these circumstances a macroeconomist or statistician with the task of measuring the capital stock, or otherwise the total amount of existing capital, will be committing an egregious error if she proceeds into lumping together the building with the cannon, for the two capital goods have value only as against one another, making their summation absurd and meaningless.
But the argument does not stop at the level of capital goods with mutually-exclusive use-values, since even if we consider only two capital goods that superficially are the same, we may still be facing an impossibility in trying to add them up in some holistic indicator. The problem exists in the fact that value is an individualistic experience which is always time-related among others, meaning that the value of a capital good may have substantial inter- and intra- personal and temporal variations. A building, to use the same example of a possible capital good, may be of great value for a given use to person X in time T1, and of insignificant value to person Y also in time T1. In time T2 this may no longer be the case, as person Y might then find the capital good more valuable than before while person X might then consider it of less value to herself (time is only one of many factors influencing value – adding more such factors to the train of thought will be more pragmatic but will not change the substance of the argument, while it will add a great deal of unnecessary complexity).
To cut the long story short, the value of capital, just like all value in economics, is purely subjective as it is dependent on a complex, interweaving web of causes, all of which may at any point be altered in multiple ways, in the passage of time. Consequently it is in fact impossible to produce any genuinely accurate aggregate which refers to capital as such, for 'capital' as a homogeneous and unalterable entity does not and cannot exist; and even if it were homogeneous on the surface it still may be subject to irresistible forces of constant differentiation, especially related to time (for those with any serious interest in capital theory, I recommend you start reading Ludwig Lachmann, Capital and its Structure).
I hope the above application of the mathematical insight to capital theory has been of help in illustrating my argument that the proposition 1 + 1 = 2 is only true in the perfectly abstract, time-less sense for as we saw it can well happen that 1α + 1β ≠ 2 in time Tx, since the two capital goods α, β are not really the same even though both are 'buildings', 'cannons' or 'capital', as they either have constantly changing values over persons and time or retain use-values that are at any given point antithetical to one another or mutually-exclusive.
This short post does not even begin to reveal the full extent of what I have mind, perhaps because I myself have yet to untangle all the thoughts that are interwoven in varying and complex ways with one another in several stages of the thinking process. However I do believe that this rather straightforward insight can be applied to many areas of research, while the inferences to be derived from them can certainly be far reaching. My primary purpose here was to throw some light on certain fields of thought I have lately been treading in, even though I still have many inroads and intellectual tracks to make. I guess I also wrote this short piece with the aim of demonstrating my subjectivism and for satisfying a perhaps apocryphal desire to provide another source of inspiration to the lunchtime friend I mentioned earlier, who will now have the chance to use this article to produce yet more jokes of my armchair theories and impractical, aka useless, deductions :-) Cheers!
Article source: http://www.protesilaos.com/2012/10/subjectivism-capital-theory.html
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