Monday, September 19, 2011

More on Toil and Its Economic Meaning

A correspondent writes privately to say (among other personal matters) that while he agrees with my stance on toil in Smith’s economics, he is confident that what non-humans do to survive and procreate also involves toil (from expending replaceable energy from previous consumption) .

I wrote:

‘True, birds build nests, Ants build hills, beavers build dams, and spiders spin webs, but this toil is for themselves in breeding formation, it’s not for co-entities of the species. There is no special effort on behalf of con-specifics. The ones who do the building, use them. Nor was there building for others for millions of years in the hominine line.’

For birds, ants, beavers, and spiders, and so on, where the output of their toil is for themselves and not con-specifics, as it became for humans, nevertheless it is describable as toil in some common ways to Smith’ sense. The toil activity requires effort on their part. He writes:

Anybody watching an ant struggle apparently with great determination when carrying a large leaf for its size and if it is dropped will admire the ant's persistence. The ant continues to apply considerable effort to succeed in the task, never giving up until the ant nest is reached. Likewise, a lion or leopard persists in its charge after a selected prey, though all its twists and turns, until bringing it down. The same tired and fed hunter will often sleep for hours in the heat of the day, like a human sunbather on holiday. Toil is manifest across the whole spectrum of life.

The fact that inanimate nature’s bounty is ‘free’, according to John Greer, has no particular significance, because it still requires toil from all life-forms to release the potential for life continuing, and procreation in all its forms happening, from consuming the bounties of nature.

I am grateful for my correspondent’s helpful clarifying insight into this issue.


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