I want to start our follow up post by expressing how impressed I am with your responses to this week’s discussion questions. Understanding surplus value is a difficult task. I’m sure many of you consulted web sources and reread the Harvey section on this many times. By and large, almost all of you get the main outlines of how profit is acquired by those who are able to extract surplus value from workers (if you have a job where you’re not the owner of the company then surplus is being extracted from your labor!) and reinvest it to create profit. This cycle, according to most readings of capitalism, is what the economic system needs to survive. It is also what maintains a system of exploitation and increasing concentration of wealth in a few hands. And that, Harvey believes, will eventually be its downfall.
Why do we explore surplus value in this class? What do the motivations by those who profit from continuously expanding markets have to do with urbanization? As Harvey says, cities are the main locations where surplus value is reinvested so that profits can be made. These can be large building projects subsidized by the government, or debt-financed mortgages in urban sprawl, or the gentrification of communities through “revitalization” projects. Over the next 5 weeks, we read about the way this “profit motive” impacts urban issues, from gentrification, to environmental degradation, to establishing borders and separations between groups of people. Much of this has to do, we’ll find, with expanding markets, valuing consumption over civic engagement, and encouraging citizens to think of themselves as individuals unconnected from a larger collective society.
For your follow up question, I’d like to see what you think of the following:
1. Pacification by Cappuccino is a phrase Sharon Zukin uses to describe how we are encouraged to think of ourselves less as citizens who might participate in a cooperative democracy and more as consumers. Through buying things, particularly luxury goods, we feel a sense of contentment and are distracted from economic and political activity that may not benefit the majority of people. We also take our wages and give them right back to those who profit from our consumption as opposed to saving it for ourselves. If we are weighed down by a heavy mortgage, we are more inclined to think individualistically, to protect our property, than to engage in cooperative political action. Yet as Harvey points out, protests are happening all the time, all around the world, by millions of people who are upset about their lack of right to the city.
What does Harvey think will need to happen for there to be significant change in these rights–for us to have a sociopolitical and economic system that enables us to realize our individuality through a collective right to the city? Hint: this is part of his final statements in the last page of the essay. What is your opinion about his views on this?
I look forward to reading your presentations–they will build on this follow up question!