Right on the Money (#2)
The most direct way to carry this discussion forwards is digression. That’s what the history of capitalism suggests, and much else does, besides.
To begin with uncontroversial basics, in a sophisticated financialized economy, debt and savings are complementary concepts, creditors match debtors, assets match liabilities. At a more basic level of economic activity and analysis, however, this symmetry break down. At the most fundamental level, saving is simply deferred consumption, which — even primordially — divides into two distinct forms.
When production is not immediately consumed, it can be hoarded, which is to say, conserved for future consumption. Stored food is the most obvious example. In principle, an economy of almost open-ended financial sophistication could be built upon this pillar alone. A grain surplus might be lent out for immediate consumption by another party, creating a creditor-debtor relation, and the opportunity for financial instruments to arise. Excess production, at one node in the social network, could be translated into a monetary hoard, or some type of ‘paper’ financial asset (producing a circulating liability). The patent anachronism involved in this abstract economic model, which combines primitive production with ‘advanced’ social relations (of an implicitly liberal type) is reason enough to suspend it at this point.
The other, (almost) equally primitive type of saving is of greater importance to the argument to be unfolded, because it is already embryonically capitalist. Rather than simple hoarding, saving can take the form of ’roundabout production’ (Böhm-Bawerk), in which immediate consumption is replaced not with a hoard, but with indirect means of production (a digression). For instance, rather than hunting, an entrepreneurial savage might spend time crafting a weapon — consuming the production time permitted by a prior food surplus in order to improve the efficiency of food acquisition, going forwards. Saving then becomes inextricable from technology, deferring immediate production for the sake of enhanced future production. Time horizons are extended.
As with the prior example (simple hoarding), the potential for financialization of roundabout production is, in principle, unlimited. Our techno-savage might borrow food in order to craft a spearhead, confident — or at least speculatively assuming — that increased hunting efficiency in the future will make repayment of the debt easily bearable. A ‘bond’ could be contrived to seal this arrangement. Technological investment means that history proper has begun.
Crudity and anachronism aside, nothing here is yet economically controversial, given only the undisturbed assumption that the final purpose — or governing teleology — is consumption. The time structure of consumption is altered, but saving (in either of these basic and perennial forms) is motivated by the maximization of long-term consumption. Suspension and digression is subordinated within a rigid means-end relation, which is economics itself. Classical, left-Marxian, neo-classical, and Austrian schools have no significant disagreements on this point. A deeper digression is required to perturb it.
What is a brain for? It, too, is a digression. Evolutionary history seems to only very parsimoniously favor brains, because they are expensive. They are a means to the elaboration of complex behaviors, requiring an extravagant up-front investment of biological resources, accounted most primitively in calories. A species that can reproduce itself (and whose individuals can nourish themselves) without cephalic extravagance, does so. This is, overwhelmingly, the normal case. Building brains is reluctantly tolerated biological digression, under rigorous teleogical — we should say ‘teleonomic’ — subordination.
‘Optimize for intelligence’ is, for both biology and economics, a misconceived imperative. Intelligence, ‘like’ capital, is a means, which finds its sole intelligibility in a more primordial end. The autonomization of such means, expressed as a non-subordinated intelligenic or techno-capitalist imperative, runs contrary to the original order of nature and society. It is an escaping digression, most easily pursued through Right-wing Marxism.
Marx has one great thought: the means of production socially impose themselves as an effective imperative. For any leftist, this is, of course, pathological. As we have seen, biology and economics (more generally) are disposed to agree. Digression for itself is a perversion of the natural and social order. Defenders of the market — the Austrians most prominently — have sided with economics against Marx, by denying that the autonomization of capital is a phenomenon to be recognized. When Marx describes the bourgeoisie as robotic organs of self-directing capital, the old liberal response has been to defend the humanity and agency of the economically executive class, as expressed in the figure of the entrepreneur.
Right-wing Marxism, aligned with the autonomization of capital (and thoroughly divested of the absurd LTV), has been an unoccupied position. The signature of its proponents would be a defense of capital accumulation as an end-in-itself, counter-subordinating nature and society as a means. When optimization for intelligence is self-assembled within history, it manifests as escaping digression, or real capital accumulation (which is mystified by its financial representation). Crudified to the limit — but not beyond — it is general robotics (escalated roundabout production). Perhaps we should not expect it to be clearly announced, because — strategically — it has every reason to camouflage itself.
Right-wing Marxism makes predictions. There is one of particular relevance to this discussion: consumption-deficiency theories of economic under-performance will become increasingly stressed as ultra-capitalist dynamics historically introduce themselves. In its unambiguously robotic phase — when capital-stock intelligenesis explodes (as self-exciting machine-brain manufacturing) — the teleological legitimation of roundabout production through prospective human consumption rapidly deteriorates into an absurdity. The (still-dominant) economic concept of ‘over-investment’ is exposed as an ideological claim upon the escalation of intelligence, made in the name of an original humanity, and taking an increasingly desperate, probably militarized form.
Insofar as the economic question remains: what is the consumption base that justifies this level of investment? history becomes ever more unintelligible. This is how economics disintegrates. The specifics require further elaboration.