Notice of New Schedule and eBook Project

I think the point has been reached to reduce the reply schedule to a monthly basis. However, questions and criticisms are still welcome, though the writing and posting of replies will be monthly instead of every other week.

Some time ago a reader suggested that the posts in this blog be converted to pdf format, in effect transformed into an ebook. I think the time has come to act on that suggestion.

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Why Capitalism Requires Expanded Reproduction

A friend Nick wants to know why capitalism can only exist as expanded reproduction. In Volume II of “Capital,” Marx developed the diagrams for both simple and expanded reproduction. Why can’t capitalism function as a system of simple reproduction?

I examined the question of simple and expanded reproduction in my main posts, especially here and here. Here I want to focus on the question of why capitalism can’t exist as a system of simple reproduction. Didn’t Marx, after all, create a mathematical model that shows exactly how simple capitalist reproduction works? Yet in many places throughout “Capital,” Marx emphasized that capitalism can exist only as expanded reproduction.

Without going into detail, let’s review the basics of Marx’s diagrams of simple and expanded reproduction.

First, Marx assumed a pure capitalism. He was not interested in other modes of production such as simple commodity production that in the real world exist side by side with capitalist production.

Second, Marx was interested only in the two most economically important fractions of the two major classes in capitalist society. These are the industrial capitalists—defined as the capitalists who purchase the labor power of productive-of-surplus-value workers—on one side, and the industrial workers—the workers who produce surplus value—on the other. The non-industrial capitalists such as merchants and money capitalists and non-productive workers—workers who do not produce surplus value—play no role in the diagrams.

Simple reproduction

In Marx’s diagram, or mathematical model, of simple reproduction, the accumulation of capital is absent. The total social capital is simply conserved, not accumulated. All the surplus value produced by the working class is consumed in the form of items of personal consumption by the capitalist class. This consumption consists of what Marx called necessities, items that are also consumed by the working class, and luxury items that are consumed by the capitalist class alone.

The economy simply reproduces itself without any change. As machines are used up, they are replaced by identical machines. Raw materials and auxiliary materials that are consumed are replaced by identical raw and auxiliary materials. As workers die or retire, they are replaced by other workers with identical skills.

The market and the monetary system in Marx’s diagrams of reproduction

Many Marxists when they produce diagrams of simple reproduction—as well as expanded reproduction—simply leave out the question of money and the market. By leaving out money, they imply a system of barter where commodities exchange directly with commodities. They therefore build Says’s so-called law—that commodities are purchased by means of commodities, and therefore a general overproduction of commodities is impossible—right into the foundations of their model. Attempts to explain crises on the basis of mathematical models of either simple or expanded reproduction that leave out money are doomed to failure from the start.

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A New Gold Standard?

A reader asks, what is the significance of the reported moves by the central banks of China, India, Russia and perhaps other countries to increase their gold reserves? Why are China, India and Russia moving to increase the percentage of their reserves held in gold as opposed to foreign currencies such the dollar and euro? Could the moves of these countries to increase their gold reserves point to a possible revival of the international gold standard in some form?

The answer to the first question is that these countries are nervous about the future of all paper currencies. During the first phase of the crisis of 2007-09, the dollar fell not only against gold but also against the euro. Naturally, countries increased the percentage of euros in their reserves, since it seemed like a good bet against the falling dollar.

Then came the sovereign debt crisis in Europe that assumed acute form just a month or so ago. The euro plunged against the dollar. But the dollar is not looking too good itself. While the dollar was soaring against the euro, it was slipping against gold, the money commodity. For the first time, the dollar price of gold inched above $1,200. Unlike paper currencies, gold is a commodity. And like all commodities, its value is determined by the amount of labor socially necessary to produce it under the prevailing conditions of production.

With the world’s gold mines facing growing depletion, the value of gold for the foreseeable future seems a little more certain than the future value of any paper currency, whether the dollar, euro or yen. No matter how bad things get, gold cannot be “run off the printing presses.” New gold can be produced and the existing supply increased only by the slow process of the labor of workers in the gold mines and in the gold refining industry.

Does this mean that the international gold standard is about to be restored? The answer for the immediate future is a definite no. The three countries that are reportedly moving to increase their gold reserves are not imperialist countries. Indeed, these countries have few gold reserves. The great bulk of the gold that is held by governments or central banks is held by the governments of the United States and the European satellite imperialist countries such as Germany, France and Italy.

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