Marx denounced the theory proposed by Nassau Senior. Senior’s theory can be summarized in this famous quote: “I substitute for the word capital, considered as an instrument of production, the word abstinence. When the savage makes bows, he exercises an industry, but does not practice abstinence” (Marx, 744). According to Senior, in the earlier stages of society, the implements of labor were constructed without the abstinence of the capitalist.
As a society progresses, according to Senior, the more abstinence is demanded – to owners of businesses which appropriate the industry and the products of others. The necessary acts of labor, according to Senior, are now considered acts of abstinence on the part of the capitalists. Marx argued that Senior’s claim could not explain the increasing accumulation of capital on the part of the capitalists. If the capitalists did really perform acts of abstinence, then the value of capital should remain relatively the same.
Marx further argued that if there were acts of abstinence, why was there a preponderance of luxury and consumer goods? The accumulated capital became the backbone of the production of other goods, which in general, creates more capital. Marx argued that the ‘abstinence’ concept of Senior was merely a facade to defend the ideals of capitalism – an economic system that promotes the idea of consumerism.
Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Vol. I. Trans. By Ben Fowkes. New York: Penguin Books, 1976.