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cheap chinese chicken nuggets

September 7, 2013

From NPR:

Was Your Chicken Nugget Made In China? It’ll Soon Be Hard To Know

I think things like this are good examples of the growing social power of capital. Capital is adept at dissolving boundaries for itself. What most likely began as a movement to make it easier for finance capital to move freely across national borders has translated into a movement to make it easier for commodities to move just as freely. Neoliberalism has made things like protectionism a thing of the past.

Moreover, the people who make the rules nationally, such as those working for the USDA, are subservient/more apt to listen to capital than labour or the consumer because capital has the greater share of money/social power, and both the ruling class and capitalist class are often intermingled (i.e., more or less the same thing). It’s simply another trend within a growing global system of production and distribution where the drive for profit is the bottom line, a trend that affects at least some aspect of almost every commodity we consume and the mode of production under which they’re produced. As David Harvey notes in Limits to Capital:

Capitalists can also accumulate by capturing relative surplus value. … A fall in the value of labour power results when the productivity of labour in the sectors producing ‘wage goods’ — the commodities the labourer needs — rises. The absolute standard of living, measured in terms of the quantities of material goods and services that the labourer can command, remains unchanged: only the exchange ratios (the prices) and value changes. The systematic cheapening of wage goods is, however, beyond the capacity of individual capitalists. A class strategy of some sort (subsides on basic commodities, cheap food and housing policies, etc.) is required if this form of relative surplus value is to be translated into a systematic as opposed to sporadic and uncontrolled means for accelerating accumulation. (30-1)

In general, though, many large multi-national companies, as individual capitalists, make more money by leveraging “the gap between socially necessary labour time and their own private costs of production” (31) — which includes cutting costs, whether in terms of labour or raw materials or both — than by making healthy, environmentally friendly, and/or high-quality products, particularly when it comes to the processed food industry. And those who do tend to make their products too expensive for the average, working-class person to afford because that’s the only way they can make a profit. We can try to push back against things like this, but I think it’s a losing battle at this point in time.

Just look at Walmart. People get all pissed and rail about the cheap, toxic Chinese-made goods, their history of gender discrimination, and their low wages, but that’s also partially why it’s so cheap and profitable and dominating the market right now.

Until an alternative to the present political-economic system starts to emerge, the lion’s share of the working class is perpetually stuck between a rock and a hard place, i.e., between wanting something better but struggling day-to-day to afford their means of subsistence or else fearing there’s no alternative and struggling day-to-day to afford their means of subsistence. Either way, they’re still struggling to survive and the siren song of cheap goods is often too sweet for them to ignore, which is exactly what capital counts on. And in this particular case, poultry companies may benefit from the privatizing of USDA inspector jobs as an added bonus.

Yeah, people may possibly get sick like all those pets did from contaminated pet food. And they’ll probably put into place some kind of ‘better regulatory method’ (which, even though it’ll most likely increase deficit spending, will help the state consume superfluous capital sitting idle in a depressed economy by increasing demand for regulatory agents) if that does happen. But even that won’t stop things like this from happening until we fundamentally change the ways we approach and organize production and distribution, ways that concentrate more on delivering use values while at the same time diminishing the role of exchange values.

It’s easy for us to bash imported goods, but we rarely seem to question the companies who outsource production and/or sell them. In essence, the problem isn’t so much with ‘foreign-made’ goods as it is the for-profit system under which these goods are produced. And if we move towards a more democratic and egalitarian system, people will have more of a say in what’s produced and how it’s produced.


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