This interview was conducted by Javier Toro.
Asdrúbal Baptista is a Professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Administration (IESA) and the University of Los Andes and a founding member of the National Academy of Economic Sciences.
This translation has been automatically generated and has not been verified for accuracy.
When I began to study the Venezuelan economy, as an economist myself, an economist with historical concerns, I must tell you, I came across oil everywhere. Oil and its reality ended up causing me a kind of immense conceptual shock, because I did not see it as fitting into the normal object on which the scientific study of capitalism, in general, focuses its gaze. Oil is a commodity, which is bought and sold, but it is not just any commodity.
The scientific study of oil begins, as it must, with the question of the specificity of oil as a commodity. At some point, it dawned on me that there is a specificity of oil that is not generally possessed by the commodities on which political economy or economic knowledge sets its sights. Where did this screen come from? Where did this device with which I can communicate come from? Where did these glasses that I put on so that I can see the screen with greater fidelity come from? All this that I have mentioned, everything that is around here, everything, really, really, has been produced. Production is the human act of pursuing an end with some deliberation, with knowledge of the means best suited to achieve it and within a particular social framework. But is oil produced? This was the question that came to me one day. Well, there is talk of oil production, but language always ends up being a trap to which one must keep one’s eyes wide open. Strictly speaking, the expression “oil production” is not accurate. No one has seen men, women and tools in their fields doing the actual work to get it. It is a mass of something that is already there. It is something that is taken out, and the act of taking it out and getting it to those who need it is what we call “production”. If we are rigorous, the word “production” doesn’t fit. But why would anyone claim to be paid for something that is not produced? It is natural to think that someone would demand to be paid for the work they have done, but is it so for something for which they have not worked? The answer is that the demand for payment depends not only on the work, but also on the ownership of the object. If you rent a house and you do not pay the rent, you will soon be forced to vacate it. Economics then ends by giving one name to the income which is the product of labour, and reserves another name for the income from the product which, without being produced, is nevertheless appropriated.
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