Profit and the disposable population
The cleric Th. Chalmers, in the otherwise in many respects ridiculous and repulsive work… has correctly struck upon this point,
‘Profit,’ says the same Chalmers, ‘has the effect of attaching the services of the disposable population to other masters, besides the mere landed proprietors, . . . while their expenditure reaches higher than the necessaries of life.’
The above quote is not the point Marx considered correct in Chalmers’s “otherwise… ridiculous and repulsive” book. It does, however, indicate Marx’s knowledge of Chalmers’s concept of disposable population. The remark occurs in the Grundrisse only seven pages before Marx’s intense discussion of the necessity — as a condition for the realization of capital — of a surplus population, in which he alludes again to Chalmers and to the “idle surplus population” treated as necessary by the “population fanatics.”
I previously discussed Chalmers’s disposable population and its possible connection to Dilke’s disposable time and to Marx’s discussion of surplus population in Disposable People and Necessary labour. Surplus labour. Surplus population. Surplus capital. (The Return of “Disposable People”), respectively. In Disposable forces, disposable class, I mentioned the likelihood that Chalmer’s concept of disposable population was an adaptation and modification of Turgot’s disposable class.
Where Turgot’s disposable class had to do with proprietors who possessed disposable revenues, Chalmers’s disposable population referred to workers who were available to perform work beyond providing sustenance and comforts. The disposable population would thus be employed by the disposable class to do jobs that were neither ‘productive’ nor ‘stipendiary’ in Turgot’s terms or, for Chalmers, the population in excess of the agricultural population and a ‘secondary population’ who produce “whatever enters, after food, into the general standard of enjoyment among the peasantry.” Chalmers’s first two populations are thus indistinguishable from Turgot’s first two classes.
In my latest post examining Herbert Marcuse’s use of planned obsolescence, I discussed how Thorstein Veblen’s analysis of concepts of conspicuous consumption, conspicuous waste, and invidious comparison relied on the “Four Stages Theory” that David Graeber and David Wengrow criticize in The Dawn of Everything. In his 1766 essay, Réflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses, Turgot refers to the theory of stages in paragraphs 52, 53, and 54, where, as he explained in paragraph 51:
We here again are obliged to go back to a retrospect of many things which have been as yet only hinted at, after we have spoken of the division of different professions, and of the different methods by which the proprietors of capitals may render them of value; because, otherwise, we should not be able to explain them properly, without interrupting the connection of our ideas.
This is to say that Turgot’s discussion of the division of labour in a commercial society presumed the theory of historical stages of savagery, pastoral life, cultivation, and commerce but proceeded from a logical analysis of commerce, rather than a chronological account. Thus, Turgot’s disposable class is the foundation of the final stage.
In Theories of Surplus Value, volume one, Marx credited Turgot with a “deeper analysis of capital relations” among the Physiocrats. Marx identifies an analysis of “the essence of surplus-value” in Turgot’s Réflexions:
Turgot at first presents this unbought element as a pure gift of nature. We shall see, however, that in his writings this pure gift of nature becomes imperceptibly transformed into the surplus-labour of the labourer which the landowner has not bought, but which he sells in the products of agriculture.
Marx did not mention Turgot’s classe disponible. In the Grundrisse, and in volume three of Theories of Surplus Value, Marx devoted a great deal of attention to the concept of disposable time from Charles Wentworth Dilke’s 1821 pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties. In fact, Marx adopts Dilke’s expression that wealth is disposable time and makes it the foundation of his theory of surplus value: “The whole development of wealth rests on the creation of disposable time.” Capital converts disposable time into superfluous labour time, the basis of surplus value.
My speculation, based on the relative rarity of the expression ‘disposable time’ before Dilke’s usage, is that Dilke intended it as a rebuttal to Chalmers’s disposable population, which Dilke characterized as ‘unproductive labour.’ Central to Dilke’s analysis was the claim that the expansion of unproductive labour — the 19th-century version of ‘bullshit jobs’ — was one of the main obstacles to the enjoyment of leisure time by the labouring classes.
just as an aside
i am currently reading “The road less travelled” which is a history of the failed peace initiative in 1916 WW1). the author does not appear to have an economic or political axe to grind, but merely tells the story of diplomats trying to put together a peace agreement at the time all of the combatants realized they could not win the war, but continued to fight for trivial gains.
what struck me, not especially pointed out by the author, was the degree to which the people (“the masses” i suppose, but certainly there were casualties among the upper (if not uppist) class) were regarded as either potential soldiers or necessary workers for the economy. occasional references to the “millions of dead” and the “horrors of war” sound extremely shallow amidst the jockeying for relative small gains and worries about “spending beyond our (that is the country’s) means.”
moral: we are all disposable. or at least fungible.
i don’t know if this represents an example of what i would call worshipping an abstraction (aka idol). or if the “players” sincerely believed they were locked into an eternal fight for survival of all against all, with each foot gained in a game of king of the hill meant a strategic advantage in the fight for the next foot.