Archive for the ‘Disproportionality’ Category

Capitalist Economists Debate ‘Secular Stagnation’

May 24, 2015

A debate has broken out between economist Larry Summers (1954- ), who fears that the U.S. and world capitalist economies are stuck in an era of “secular stagnation” with no end in sight, and blogger Ben Bernanke (1953- ). Blogger Bernanke is, no less, the Ben Bernanke who headed the U.S. Federal Reserve Board between 2006 and 2014. Bernanke claims that the U.S. and world economies are simply dealing with lingering aftereffects of the 2007-2009 “Great Recession,” which broke out while he was head of the Federal Reserve System.

In effect, Bernanke is saying that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with capitalism and that healthy growth and “low unemployment and inflation” will return once the lingering aftereffects of the crisis are fully shaken off. Bernanke is, however, alarmed by the rapid growth of German exports and the growing share of the world market going to German industry.

Last year, we “celebrated” the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Bernanke’s concerns show that the economic fault lines that led to both World War I and II have not disappeared. Instead, they have been joined by new ones as more countries have become industrialized. And the prolonged period of slow growth—and in some countries virtually no growth—that has followed the Great Recession is once again sharpening them. Competition both among individual capitalists and between capitalist countries is much sharper when world markets are growing slowly. World War I itself broke out when the early 20th-century “boom” was running out of steam, while World War II broke out after a decade of the Depression.

The debate between Summers and Bernanke on secular stagnation has been joined by other eminent U.S. economists such as Joseph Stiglitz (1943- ) and Brad DeLong (1960- ). Summers, Stiglitz and DeLong are Keynesian-leaning economists, while Bernanke, a Republican, leans more in the direction of “neoliberalism,” though like most U.S. policymakers, he is thoroughly pragmatic.

The debate began with Summers’ speech to the IMF’s Fourteenth Annual Research Conference in Honor of Stanley Fisher. Summers noted that the panic of 2008 was “an event that in the fall of 2008 and winter of 2009 … appeared, by most of the statistics—GDP, industrial production, employment, world trade, the stock market—worse than the fall of 1929 and the winter of 1930. …”

At the very least, this was a major defeat for “stabilization policies” that were supposed to iron out the capitalist industrial cycle and abolish panics. But the problem extends far beyond the 2008 panic itself.

“… in the four years since financial normalization,” Summers observed, “the share of adults who are working has not increased at all and GDP has fallen further and further behind potential, as we would have defined it in the fall of 2009.”

The highly misleading unemployment rate calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor notwithstanding, there has been a massive growth in long-term unemployment in the U.S. in the wake of the crisis, as shown by the declining percentage of the U.S. population actually working.

In the days before the “Keynesian revolution” in the 1930s, the “classical” neoclassical marginalist economists, whose theories still form the bedrock of the economics taught in U.S. universities, were willing to concede that some “outside shock” to the economic system (for example, a major policy blunder by the central bank or a major harvest failure) might occasionally create a severe recession and considerable amount of “involuntary unemployment.” But these learned economists insisted that since a “free market economy” naturally tends toward an equilibrium with full employment of both workers and machines, the capitalist system should quickly return to “full employment” if a severe recession occurs.

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World War I—Its Causes and Consequences (pt 2)

August 24, 2014

Wars rarely turn out the way their initiators expect. In our own time, we can point to many examples. George W. Bush and Tony Blair, when they ordered the invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003, believed that the U.S.-British forces would defeat Iraq’s armed forces—weakened by years of sanctions, continued military attacks, and forced unilateral disarmament—within weeks with hardly any casualties on the side of the invaders. It would then be “mission accomplished.”

But now in August 2014—100 years to the month since the outbreak of the “Great War”—the U.S. has resumed bombing Iraq as the government it created crumbles. The reason this government is failing is that virtually no Iraqi wants to fight and die for it. Why should an Iraqi fight for a foreign-imposed government?

Nor should we forget the war against Afghanistan launched by the Washington war-makers in October 2001 against the Taliban government, which had no modern armed forces, only a militia. Within weeks, U.S. media were writing about that most unequal war in the past tense. But now, 13 years later, the U.S. is still struggling to find a way to exit that war without the return of the Taliban to power. That war didn’t turn out as the Washington war-makers expected either.

Nor has the air war fought by U.S-NATO against Libya in 2011 turned out the way the Obama administration, which launched that war, expected. And the same will probably be true of the most recent war—if it can even be called a war—launched by Israel, with at least the tacit support of the U.S., against the people of tiny Gaza, which has no army, air force or navy.

This August marks not only the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I but also the 50th anniversary of the infamous Gulf of Tonkin Incident. If we were to believe the U.S. propaganda of the time, (North) Vietnam’s tiny navy attacked without any provocation the mightiest navy the world had ever seen! This “incident” occurred—or rather didn’t occur—on August 2, 1964, just two days short of the 50th anniversary of the start of the “Great War.”

The U.S. Congress used this faked incident to grant the Johnson administration cart blanche to wage war against Vietnam, which the administration took full advantage of by launching a series of bombing raids on the Democratic Republic of Vietnam that August. This gave way to a steady air bombardment of (North) Vietnam—the South had been subject to steady U.S. bombardment for the preceding five years—the following year after Johnson won re-election as the “peace candidate.”

While the Washington war-makers succeeded in killing millions of Vietnamese people and doing incalculable damage to the environment with Agent Orange and other forms of environmental warfare, in the end the war against Vietnam did not turn out the way the war-makers in the White House, the Pentagon and Congress expected. For example, the renaming of Saigon Ho Chi Minh City was probably not part of Washington’s war plans.

Nor did the war against Korea, which is usually seen as beginning in June 1950 but really began when Washington occupied the southern part of Korea in 1945, turn out exactly as the Washington war-makers intended, though they succeeded in killing millions of Korean people and left no multistory building standing in the northern part of the country.

The rule that wars seldom turn out the way those who start them expect was certainly true of the general European war that began exactly a century ago. To the generation that actually fought, it was known as the “Great War” or “the World War,” ”the war to make the world safe for democracy,” or, most ironic of all, “the war to end all wars.” But as a result of unintended consequences of the war, it had to undergo a name change. It was renamed World War I, a mere prelude to the even greater bloodbath of World War II.

‘Before the leaves fall’

When the general European war commenced on August 4, 1914, each warring imperialist power was convinced that it would be a short war and that it would emerge victorious. Or as was said, the war would be over “before the leaves fall.”

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Michael Heinrich’s ‘New Reading’ of Marx—A Critique, Pt 3

September 1, 2013

In this month’s post, I will take a look at Heinrich’s views on value, money and price. As regular readers of this blog should realize by now, the theory of value, money and price has big implications for crisis theory.

As we have seen, present-day crisis theory is divided into two main camps. One camp emphasizes the production of surplus value. This school—largely inspired by the work of Polish-born economist Henryk Grossman, and whose most distinguished present-day leader is Professor Andrew Kliman of Pace University—holds that the basic cause of crises is that periodically an insufficient amount of surplus value is produced. The result is a rate of profit too low for the capitalists to maintain a level of investment sufficient to prevent a crisis.

From the viewpoint of this school, a lack of demand is a secondary effect of the crisis but by no means the cause. If the capitalists find a way to increase the production of surplus value sufficiently, investment will rise and demand problems will go away. Heinrich, who claims there is no tendency of the rate of profit to fall, is therefore anathema to this tendency of Marxist thought.

The other main school of crisis theory puts the emphasis on the problem of the realization of surplus value. This tendency is dominated by the Monthly Review school, named after the magazine founded by U.S. Marxist economist Paul Sweezy and now led by Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster.

The Monthly Review school roots the tendency toward crises/stagnation not in the production of surplus value like the Grossman-Kliman school but rather in the realization of surplus value. The analysis of this school is based largely on the work of the purely bourgeois English economist John Maynard Keynes, the moderate Polish-born socialist economist Michael Kalecki, and the radical U.S. Marxist economist Paul Sweezy.

Kalecki’s views on markets were similar to those of Keynes. Indeed, it is often said that Kalecki invented “Keynesian theory” independently and prior to Keynes himself—with one exception. Kalecki, like the rest of the Monthly Review school, puts great emphasis on what he called the “degree of monopoly.” In contrast, Keynes completely ignored the problem of monopoly.

Needed, a Marxist law of markets

A real theory of the market is necessary, in my opinion, for a complete theory of crises. Engels indicated in his work “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific” that under capitalism the growth of the market is governed by “quite different laws” than govern the growth of production, and that the laws governing the growth of the market operate “far less energetically” than the laws that govern the growth of production. The result is the crises of overproduction that in the long run keep the growth of production within the limits of the market.

This, however, is not a complete crisis theory, because Engels did not explain exactly what the laws are that govern the growth of the market. Unfortunately, leaving aside hints found in Marx’s writings, Marxists—with the exception of Paul Sweezy—have largely ignored the laws that govern the growth of the market. This, I think, would be a legitimate criticism of what Heinrich calls “world view Marxism.” As a result, the theory of what does govern the growth of the market has been left to the anti-Marxist Keynes, the questionably Marxist Kalecki and the strongly Keynes- and Kalecki-influenced Sweezy.

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Bitcoins and Monetary Reform in the Digital Age

June 9, 2013

Recently, there has been a rising wave of interest in a new Internet-based currency called bitcoins. In one sense, bitcoins are the latest attempt to improve capitalism through monetary reform. But unlike other monetary reform schemes, bitcoins are very 21st century, based as they are on modern computer technology and the Internet.

According to Wikipedia: “Bitcoin (BTC) is a cryptocurrency first described in a 2008 paper by pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto, who called it a peer-to-peer, electronic cash system. Bitcoin creation and transfer is based on an open source cryptographic protocol and is not managed by any central authority. Each bitcoin is subdivided down to eight decimal places, forming 100 million smaller units called satoshis. Bitcoins can be transferred through a computer or smartphone without an intermediate financial institution.”

A short history of monetary reform before the Internet

One monetary reform that was popular among small farmers and small businesspeople in the late 19th-century U.S. was bimetallism. The bimetallists proposed that the U.S. dollar be defined in terms not only of gold but also of silver, at a fixed ratio of 16 to 1. Under this proposed reform, the silver dollar coin would weigh 16 times as much as the gold dollar coin.

The supporters of bimetallism argued that this would, by sharply increasing the money supply, increase demand and thereby raise the prices of agricultural commodities. The increased demand would, the supporters of bimetallism argued, put unemployed workers back to work. In this way, the bimetallists hoped to unite the interests of workers, small farmers and small businesspeople against the rising power of the Wall Street banks.

A basic flaw in this proposal was that while at one time the ratio of 16 to 1 more or less reflected the actual relative labor values of gold and silver bullion, by the late 19th century the value of silver was falling sharply relative to the value of gold. Given a choice of using either silver or gold coins at this ratio, people would have chosen to pay off their debts in cheap silver—which is why bimetallism was so popular among highly indebted small farmers and businesspeople—while using the cheap silver dollars to purchase and hoard the more valuable gold dollars. This effect is known as “Gresham’s Law,” named after the early British economist Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579).

Under Gresham’s Law, cheap silver dollars would have driven gold dollars out of circulation, leaving the silver dollar as the standard dollar. This would have had the effect of devaluing the U.S. dollar from the value of the gold dollar down to the value of the silver dollar. Fearing that supporters of bimetallism would win the upper hand in the U.S. government during the 1890s, foreign capitalist investors began to cash in their U.S. dollars for gold leading to a series of runs on the U.S. Treasury’s gold reserve as well as the gold reserves of U.S. commercial banks.

A wave of bank runs and an associated stock market crash that occurred in the northern hemisphere spring of 1893 has gone down in history as the “panic of 1893.” This panic was followed by a prolonged period of depression, mass unemployment and plunging commodity prices. This was the exact opposite of what supporters of bimetallism desired.

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Monetary crisis in Cyprus and the ghost of 1931

April 14, 2013

In recent weeks, a financial, banking-monetary and political crisis erupted on the small Mediterranean island country of Cyprus. Here I am interested in examining only one aspect of this complex crisis, the banking and monetary aspect.

The Cyprus banking crisis was largely caused by the fact that Cypriot banks invested heavily in Greek government bonds. Government bonds appeared to be a safe investment in a period of crisis-depression. But then these bonds fell sharply in value due to Greece’s partial default in 2012—the so-called “haircut” that the holders of Greek government bonds were forced to take in order to avoid a full-scale default. The Cyprus banking and financial crisis is therefore an extension of the Greek crisis. However, in Cyprus the banking crisis went one stage beyond what has occurred so far in either the U.S. or Europe.

The European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF imposed an agreement on Cyprus that involved massive losses for the owners of large bank deposits, over 100,000 euros. Mass protests by workers in Cyprus forced the European Union and the European Central Bank to retreat from their original plans to have small depositors take losses as well.

Since the late 19th century, central banks, like the Bank of England, have gone out of their way when they wind up the affairs of failing banks to do so in ways that preserve the currency value of bank deposits for their owners. The officials charged with regulating the banks prefer instead to wipe out the stockholders and sometimes the bondholders.

Why are the central banks and other governmental regulatory organs—like the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Agency, which was created under the New Deal in hopes of avoiding bank runs in the United States—so eager to preserve the value of bank deposits, even at the expense of bank stockholders and bondholders?

The reason is that if the owners of deposits fear that they could lose their money, they will attempt to convert their deposits into hard cash all at once, causing a run on the banks. Under the present monetary system, “hard cash” is state-created legal-tender token money. Whenever depositors of a bank en mass attempt to convert their bank deposits into cash, the reserves of the banks are drained. Unless the “run” is quickly halted, the bank fails.

A bank facing a run in a last-ditch attempt to avoid failure calls in all loans it possibly can, sells off its assets such as government bonds in order to raise cash to meet its depositors’ demands, and halts additional loans to preserve cash. Therefore, if there is a general run on the banks, the result is a drying up of loan money capital, creating a massive contraction in demand. This causes commodities to pile up unsold in warehouses, which results in a sharp contraction of production and employment. Soaring unemployment can then lead to a severe social crisis.

This is exactly the situation that now confronts the people of Cyprus. University of Cyprus political scientist Antonis Ellinas, according to Menelaos Hadjicostis of CNBC and AP, “predicted that unemployment, currently at 15 percent, will ‘probably go through the roof’ over the next few years.” With official unemployment in Cyprus already at a Depression-level 15 percent, what will the unemployment rate be “when it goes through the roof”? Throughout the Eurozone as a whole, official unemployment now stands at 12 percent.

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‘The Failure of Capitalist Production’ by Andrew Kliman — Part 3

April 15, 2012

The evolution of the rate of surplus value

Kliman’s discussion of the evolution of the rate of surplus value over the last 40 years is, in my opinion, the weakest part of his book. Most Marxists—and non-Marxists, including the great bulk of U.S. workers—would agree that the portion of income going to the rich—the capitalist class—has risen considerably in the U.S. since the early 1970s. This widespread popular belief is clearly reflected in the rise of the Occupy movement.

Kliman strongly disagrees with this. Using U.S. government statistics, he attempts to demonstrate that the share of the U.S. national income going to the workers has risen at the expense of the share going to the capitalists. Or in Marxist terms, the rate of surplus value has actually fallen. A falling rate of surplus value, even if the organic composition of capital remains unchanged, implies a fall in the rate of profit. If a fall in the rate of surplus value is accompanied by a rise in the organic composition of capital, the result will be a marked fall in the general rate of profit.

Which is right: the general popular perception and the view of the Occupy movement that American capitalism and world capitalism is growing more exploitative, or Kliman’s contrary view?

Kliman quotes John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff—leaders of the Monthly Review school: “…wages of private non-agricultural workers in the United States (in 1982 dollars) peaked in 1972 at $8.99 per hour, and by 2006 had fallen to $8.24 (equivalent to the real hourly wage rate in 1967), despite the enormous growth in productivity and profits over the past few decades.” (p. 155)

These figures would seem to clinch the case for a considerable rise in the rate of surplus value in the decades preceding the “Great Recession.” It would seem that on the eve of the Great Recession in 2006, a typical U.S. worker got less in use value terms for each hour of labor power she sold to the capitalists than her mother earned for similar work 34 years earlier. Furthermore, the productivity of human labor has hardly stood still over the last 34 years. This means that the commodities that a worker consumed in 2006 embodied a considerably smaller amount of human labor value than was the case in 1972.

This is true for two reasons. First, the worker in 2006 received less use value  for every hour of labor power she sold to the capitalists. Second, each unit of use value she did receive in exchange for her sold labor power represented less embodied abstract human labor—value—than it did in 1972.

This would mean that there has been a marked growth in what Marx called relative surplus value when if the total work day remains unchanged workers will be working a smaller amount of time for themselves and a greater amount of time for the capitalists. This can be the case even if the standard of living of the workers actually increases, if the increased number or quantity of commodities  the workers get to consume in exchange for their sold labor power represents a smaller quantity of value.

Kliman disagrees. He thinks that if anything the rate of surplus value, at least in the U.S., has fallen over the last 40 years. In attempting to prove this, he quotes economist Martin Feldstein as an authority. Feldstein wrote that it is a “measurement mistake” to “focus on wages rather than total compensation.” Feldstein complains that this has “led some analysts to conclude that the rise in labor income has not kept up with the growth in productivity.” (p. 153)

Kliman doesn’t inform his readers that Martin Feldstein is an extremely reactionary economist who has dedicated his life to defending and prettifying U.S. capitalism, though he does mention that he was the head of the National Bureau for Economic Research.

Marxists, beginning with Marx, have often quoted bourgeois economists when these economists’ research exposes some of the truths about capitalism and its exploitation of the workers. When the hired apologists for capitalism are obliged to admit a portion of the truth about the exploitative nature of capitalism, it is especially telling. The more reactionary the particular apologetic economist is the better.

But for a Marxist to quote reactionary economists when they use statistical data in a way that actually strengthens their apologetic views of capitalism is rather unusual, to say the least. While we can’t prove that American capitalism has grown more exploitative simply because Feldstein claims it hasn’t, Kliman’s conclusion is strongly in line with Feldstein’s natural ideological bias.

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‘The Failure of Capitalist Production’ by Andrew Kliman — Part 1

February 19, 2012

First, I must say I liked this book. I think it is a major contribution to the debate about the nature not only of the latest crisis but of cyclical capitalist crises in general.

This book is a continuation of Kliman’s earlier book “Reclaiming Marx’s Capital” (Lexington Books, 2006), which deals with the so-called “neo-Ricardian” critique of Marx. But “The Failure of Capitalist Production” (Pluto Press, 2012) is more than that. In this book, Kliman deals with crisis theory, the main subject of this blog. He therefore casts a far wider net than he did in the earlier work.

Though Kliman builds on his earlier book, the main target of his critique shifts from “neo-Ricardians” to the “underconsumptionist” school of crisis theory and its main contemporary representative, the Monthly Review school.

Two main schools of crisis theory

I have explained that there are two main theories of the origins of capitalist crises vying with one another among present-day Marxists, both in print and online. One is the theory of underconsumption. The underconsumptionists see the cause of the periodic economic crises under capitalism as lying in the “excessive” exploitation of the workers. In Marxist terms, underconsumptionism attributes crises and capitalist stagnation to a rate of surplus value that is too high.

That is, too high not only from the viewpoint of the workers but even from the standpoint of the interests of the capitalists themselves. According to the underconsumptionists, the capitalists are appropriating plenty of surplus value, but they cannot find enough buyers for the vast quantity of commodities they are capable of producing with the workers they are “excessively” exploiting.

The result is either acute economic crises at periodic intervals or long-term economic stagnation with many workers and machines lying idle, or some combination of both. The giant of underconsumption theory in the last century was the celebrated American Marxist economist Paul Sweezy. Sweezy founded and edited the socialist magazine Monthly Review, from which the Monthly Review school takes its name.

The underconsumptionist school’s main rival attributes periodic crises to Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. This school sees the cause of crises as being the exact opposite of what the Monthly Review school and other underconsumptionists claim it is. The falling rate of profit school holds that it is an insufficient rate of surplus value that leads to acute capitalist economic crises and longer-term stagnation. Too little surplus value is produced, not too little from the viewpoint of the workers, of course, but too little relative to the needs of the capitalist system.

The best-known inspirer of the present-day “too little surplus value” school is the Marxist economist Henryk Grossman (1881-1950), who can be seen as the “anti-Sweezy.” The two men were opponents during their lifetimes, and they remain so after their deaths. Kliman does not mention Grossman in this book. However Kliman definitely belongs to the not-enough-surplus-value school of crisis theory.

As I have explained, these two schools of crisis theory are completely opposed to one another. That is, as stated they both can’t be true. I believe that Kliman very much shares this assessment.

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A New Imperialist War

April 3, 2011

The last few weeks have seen the beginning of a new imperialist war, this time against the small oil-rich country of Libya. The war began on March 19, when the United States, Britain and France launched a missile attack against Libya’s air defenses.

The opening of this new U.S.-led imperialist war of aggression occurred on the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. To add to the irony, the first missiles began to fall during U.S. West Coast anti-war demonstrations timed to mark the beginning of the imperialist invasion of Iraq—a first in the history of anti-war demonstrations, I believe.

I had been asked what is my opinion of the current economic conjuncture. I had intended to devote a reply to this question, since I have not written about this for some time and there have been some interesting developments on this front. However, the explosive events in North Africa and the Persian Gulf region combined with the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters are raising a different set of questions that should be dealt with first.

What will be the effects of these events on the world capitalist economy? These events are external to the industrial cycle, though they will no doubt exert an influence on the evolution of the current global industrial cycle that began with the outbreak of the last general crisis of overproduction in 2007. Therefore, this month I will examine the effects of the North African and Persian Gulf events and the Japanese disasters on the capitalist world economy. I will postpone until next month an examination of the current conjuncture in the global industrial cycle.

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Are Marx and Keynes Compatible Pt 8

February 20, 2011

Sweezy attempts to develop a theory of crises in ‘Theory of Capitalist Development’

In “Monopoly Capital,” Sweezy (and Baran) treated crises and the industrial cycle only in passing. In contrast, in “The Theory of Capitalist Development” Sweezy examined Marxist crisis theory in considerable detail. Even today, “The Theory of Capitalist Development” can be recommended for anybody interested in the development of Marxist crisis theory in the first part of the 20th century.

In his survey, Sweezey examined the writings of such Marxists as Kautsky, Hilferding, Rosa Luxemburg and Henryk Grossman. Sweezy found essentially three crisis theories among these early 20th-century Marxists.

One was put forward by Karl Kautksy around the turn of the 20th century. It involved the question of whether capitalism was evolving toward a state of chronic depression.

What is sometimes called the “Great Depression” of 1873-1896 had come to an end, and the world capitalist economy was entering a phase of rapid economic expansion. According to Kautsky, it was the existence of agrarian markets still dominated by pre-capitalist simple commodity production that explained capitalism’s continued ability to grow.

However, as capitalism continued to develop, these markets would be expected to decline in importance and the world capitalist economy would, if socialist revolution did not intervene, sink into a state of more or less permanent depression. This would mark the end of capitalism’s ability to develop the productive forces of humanity.

Therefore, according to Kautsky, the cyclical crises and their associated depressions were heralds of the approaching state of permanent depression. As such, they were reminders that capitalist production was historically limited and would inevitably give way to a higher mode of production.

Later, in 1912, Rosa Luxemburg attempted to prove Kautsky’s turn-of-the-century views in a rigorous way in her “Accumulation of Capital.” Luxemburg believed that she had indeed proven that assuming that all production is capitalist—that is, there are no more simple commodity producers—expanded capitalist reproduction would be a mathematical impossibility. And remember that according to Marx capitalism can only exist as expanded reproduction.

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Why Capitalism Requires Expanded Reproduction

July 18, 2010

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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