The 2009 Review of Radical Political Economics published a paper by Dick Bryan, Randy Martin and Mike Rafferty entitled “Financialization and Marx, Giving Labor and Capital a Financial Makeover.” A friend wants to know my opinion of the paper.
The paper raises many questions about the recent changes in the capitalist system, as well as the relationship between neoclassical marginalist economics and Marxist economic theory. Since the questions raised by Bryan, Martin and Rafferty are of extreme importance if we are to understand the evolution of present-day imperialism, I have decided to examine them here. However, these questions are too complex to deal with in a single reply. I have therefore decided to break my reply into a series of sub-replies that will focus on particular points.
Their paper shows that Bryan, Martin and Rafferty are familiar with Marxist economic theory but in my opinion have not fully understood it. The influence of marginalist ideas is pretty obvious as well. It seems that the marginalist ideas that they were undoubtedly exposed to in their own university studies are getting in the way of their achieving a full understanding of Marx’s economic discoveries. The positive thing is that they are wrestling with Marx and taking him seriously. Perhaps in time they will achieve a full understanding and put the false theories they learned in school completely behind them.
In this reply, I will examine the most important part of Marx’s theory: the sale at its value of the one commodity the workers have to sell—their labor power—to the industrial capitalists, and the consequent production of surplus value.
Their paper indicates that Bryan, Martin and Rafferty have not yet fully understood Marx’s discoveries in this area. Among the questions raised by Bryan, Martin and Rafferty are these: To what extent if at all can labor be considered a form of capital? Exactly what is the relationship between labor and labor power? What exactly did Marx mean by the term commodity capital? Is variable capital a form of commodity capital? And if not, why not?
In this reply, I will focus on these questions. I will also examine and critique the ideas of both marginalist and Marxist economists on the relationship between skilled and unskilled labor. Closely related to this question, though Bryan, Martin and Rafferty don’t directly raise it as such, I will deal with what the bourgeois economists and media call “human capital.” How does the concept of “human capital” relate to Marx’s theory of value and surplus value? Is the concept of human capital compatible with Marxist theory, and if not, why not?
I think that complete clarity is necessary on these questions before we can examine the main question that Bryan, Martin and Rafferty are examining: How does the “financialization” phenomena that has developed with such vigor since the “Volcker Shock” of a generation ago affect the relationships between the main social classes of capitalist society—the capitalist class, the working class and the intermediate class, what Marxists traditionally have called the “petty bourgeoisie.”