Monday, June 17, 2024

Book proposal: Marx’s Fetters and the Realm of Freedom: a remedial reading -- part 2.6

From sufficiency to planned obsolescence… and back?

In the Grundrisse, Karl Marx argued that capital’s response to the barrier to increasing production posed by satiated consumption took three paths: promoting greater consumption of existing products, expanding markets for existing products to new territories, and creating new needs through the “discovery and creation of new use values.” In the twentieth century, with the help of advertising and marketing, capital has added a fourth method: create new needs through the premature destruction of old use values by planned obsolescence. These methods allow capital to “ideally get beyond” the barrier to production posed by consumption but can’t really overcome the fundamental contradiction that “real wealth has to take on a specific form distinct from itself, a form not absolutely identical with it, in order to become an object of production at all.”

In “Political Ecology: Expertocracy versus Self-Limitation,” André Gorz argued that capitalism has swept away everything “that might serve as anchorage for a common norm of sufficiency, and has abolished at the same time the prospect that choosing to work and consume less might give access to a better freer life.” Gorz viewed the obstacles to re-establishing a norm of sufficiency as not insurmountable if approached as a social project rather than an individual choice, “The norm of sufficiency, deprived of its traditional mooring, has to be defined politically.”

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