Reply To: Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange

Start Forums Courses Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange Reply To: Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange

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Mirabel Joshi # Posted on March 5, 2014 at 12:38

”..we tend to be deluded by modern technology.” (Hornborg 2011: 3)

What does technology entail according to Hornborg? Technology is not just the manifestation of human innovation! Technology does not save time and space! Technology is not non-controversial!

From Hornborgs perspective technology is the main driver of inequality in the world. The argument goes that technology is part of the infrastructure that enables accumulation of capital and an unequal exchange within the global economic system. Net transfers of physical resources as labour time, hectares of land, energy and material volume is needed to produce technology and to build and maintain the infrastructure it requires. Therefore technology does not save time and space it only moves whose time and space is used in the production process and where it moves depend on the exchange rate.

The ideology of reciprocity within the economic system is from this perspective flawed as the flows of matter and energy are asymmetric. The use of money disguises this problem of reciprocity as it operates as a universal solvent of value and creates a market where anything is interchangeable. However, argues Hornborg, there are absolute values however obscured by using universal exchange rates. In the process of solvency these values can morph and accumulate into a different shape as for instance climate change.

So, the potential capacity of technology to save time and space is always on the expense of human time (and surely also pig, cow, tiger etc. time) and natural space. The technical end product only saves time and space in the environment it is (used). Therefore there always has to be an unequal exchange rate or else there will be no accumulation of capital. In a zero-sum world there are no gains to be made through technological innovation.

Technological development is part of the grand idea of progress, a sign of able men and great nations – a key to surplus production and economic growth. In history this is closely linked to developments within agrarian technology which has led on to expanses of territory and power.

What is most interesting to me from Hornborgs argument is the distinction made between the particular and the universal in connection to value and how the problems that arise when solvent is used to make all values exchangeable are made visible. I however do not agree that information technology and advances within medicine are any different to other technology. They are also drivers in this game of capital accumulation and unequal exchange and would perhaps. It is widely known that advances within these fields are available to the ”winners” within the system and to a lesser extent to the ”loosers”.