Joan Martínez Alier, Guest Blogger

President Rafael Correa of Ecuador asks when and where Marx criticizes mega-mining. In various interviews, Correa, the mouthpiece of mega-mining and the expansion of oil exploitation, has asked, “Let’s see, señores marxistas, where was Marx opposed to the exploitation of non-renewable resources?” The response is easy. Marx and Engels criticized predatory capitalism, even if (in my opinion) their proto-ecologist critique was not a fundamental pillar of their work, which was more focused in an analysis of the exploitation of salaried workers and its consequences for the dynamics of capitalism.

But what would Marx have said of mega-mining and the ideas of President Correa? I don’t know enough German to guess, but I imagine it would be something like Pfui Teufel! In this respect, the pertinent concepts of Marxism that Correa doesn’t know or has forgotten are at least two: 1) Primitive or Original Accumulation of Capital (a concept revised by David Harvey in 2003 under the name Accumulation by Dispossession, very appropriate to the realities of President Correa’s oil and mineral extractive projects in Ecuador’s Amazon and other regions); 2) The interpretation of economics as Social Metabolism (for which Marx was inspired by Moleschott and Liebig).
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Nancy Folbre, Guest Blogger

Some of the most vivid political rhetoric of 2012 reflects a debate that has lasted centuries. Who are the makers and who are the takers? Much economic theory revolves around efforts to distinguish the two. The conceptual effort is motivated by noble intent: presumably, a good economic system encourages making (creating more to go around) and discourages taking (redistributing what others have made).

Yet it is surprisingly hard to create a consensus about these labels, and past disagreements, still unresolved, lurk in the background. History is shaped by contending claims over who is more productive than whom. Powerful groups like to describe themselves as makers rather than takers, partly to glorify themselves and partly to discourage take-backs.

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Arjun Jayadev

A few years ago Suresh Naidu and I began to write, but sadly never completed, a paper that included a long discussion of conceptual measures of waste in economics.  I’m reminded of this because of Bill Janeway’s very interesting-sounding book that has recently been released. Bill’s talk at the inaugural INET conference introduced me to the idea of “Schumpeterian waste”: or the idea that in the process of innovation, one must encounter and accept periods of wasted resources. When Suresh and I were writing the paper, we spent hours trying to operationalize and provide some theoretical underpinnings for ideas of waste, but we never really felt like we had gotten it. But there were some ideas there, and so for all that effort to not go to, well, waste, maybe it’s worthwhile to write a blog post to keep it alive.

Economics is very theoretically comfortable with what may be termed `Keynesian’ waste. This is the degree to which an economy lies below its production possibility frontier. All the initial motivation for Keynesian Macro was the attempt to minimize this waste.

Bill, as mentioned, describes the phenomenon of `Schumpeterian Waste’: or the waste in terms of resources that arises from the fact that some failure of firms is necessary for the proper functioning of capitalist dynamics. As his introduction puts it: “economic growth has been driven by successive processes of trial and error and error and error: upstream exercises in research and invention, and downstream experiments in exploiting the new economic space opened by innovation. Each of these activities necessarily generates much waste along the way: dead-end research programs, useless inventions and failed commercial ventures.” Bill suggests that there needs to be a break from concerns about financial returns and investment (thereby necessitating a role for government) in order for this to work effectively.

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