Friday, 14 February 2014

Capital II, Chapter 13 - Part 3

Its not just the circulating capital that is bunched up into these periods, determined by nature. The fixed capital is only used in these periods too. Working animals have to be fed and maintained, however, throughout the year. The cost of their maintenance, even during these periods, when they are not being used, to pull the plough etc., therefore, forms a necessary cost, which must be transferred to the value of the end product. It is, in this respect, like the cotton waste that forms a necessary part of yarn production.

This sets aside these kinds of branches of production from other forms of production, where the working period and production time coincide. Other forms of fixed capital, for example a steam traction engine, introduced to replace working cattle, would be the same. During parts of the year, it would be unused, and so suffer depreciation. But, unlike the depreciation of a machine in a factory, which represents a capital loss, this depreciation is a natural and unavoidable part of the production process. As a result, it does not constitute a capital loss, but is transferred to the value of the end product.

“Hence the product is in general increasing in price, since the transfer of value to it is not calculated according to the time during which the fixed capital functions but according to the time during which it depreciates in value. In branches of production such as these, the idling of the fixed capital, whether combined with current expenses or not, forms as much a condition of its normal employment as for instance the loss of a certain quantity of cotton in spinning; and in the same way the labour-power expended unproductively but unavoidably in any labour-process under normal technical conditions counts just as well as that expended productively. Every improvement which reduces the unproductive expenditure of instruments of labour, raw material, and labour-power also reduces the value of the product.” (p 246)

This is different from the depreciation of machinery generally, for the reason Marx sets out here. In general, depreciation is a function of time, and non-use. In general, depreciation can be minimised by maximum use e.g. seven day, shift working. So, depreciation then is simply a capital loss, just as much as if the machine had been damaged or stolen. It does not get passed on to the value of the end product. It is the specific conditions that impose non-use that, in agriculture, means it is transferred to the value of the end product. However, in agriculture, as elsewhere, the capital loss, due to “moral depreciation” still imposes such a capital loss.  In other words, if the value of the fixed capital is reduced because a new type of machine is introduced, or because the labour-time required for its production falls, then this does constitute a capital loss rather than contributing to the value of the end product.

In order to use the fixed capital more effectively, there is an incentive to try to spread out the working period during the whole year.

“All methods by which in agriculture on the one hand the expenditures for wages and instruments of labour are distributed more evenly over the entire year, while on the other the turnover is shortened by raising a greater variety of crops, thus making different harvests possible throughout the year, require an increase of the circulating capital advanced in production, invested in wages, fertilisers, seed, etc. This is the case in the transition from the three-field system with fallow land to the system of crop rotation without fallow. It applies furthermore to the cultures dèrobèes of Flanders.

'The root crops are planted in culture dèrobèe; the same field yields in succession first grain, flax, colza, for the wants of man, and after they are harvested root crops are sown for the maintenance of cattle. This system, which permits the keeping of horned cattle in the stables, yields a considerable amount of manure and thus becomes the pivot of crop rotation.'” (p 246-7)

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