Archive for the ‘Long Waves’ Category

Andrew Kliman and the ‘Neo-Ricardian’ Attack on Marxism, Pt 2

August 29, 2010

Marx, Okishio and Kliman and the rate of profit

The more interesting part of Kliman’s book “Reclaiming Marx’s ‘Capital’” is actually not his non-treatment of the transformation problem but rather his treatment of the laws that govern the rate of profit. Of special concern for Kliman is the so-called Okishio theorem, which supposedly refutes Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

The Okishio theorem, which was clearly inspired by the “neo-Ricardians,” is named after the Japanese economist Nobuo Okishio, who developed it. Okishio began as a bourgeois marginalist mathematical economist but evolved toward Marx. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way he seems to have fallen into the “neo-Ricardian” swamp, which the Japanese economist perhaps confused with Marxism—apologies to Ricardo, who developed the law of labor value as far as he could rather than scrap it like the misnamed “neo-Ricardians” have done.

According to the Okishio theorem, as long as the real wage remains unchanged it will never be in the interest of an individual capitalist to adopt a method of production that will cause the rate of profit to fall. Marx showed that the real wage—the use values of the commodities the workers buy with the money they receive in exchange for their labor power—is determined by what is necessary to reproduce their labor power.

Marx explained that the real wage consists of two fractions. One is an absolute minimum that is required to biologically reproduce the workers’ labor power. The real wage can never fall below this level for any prolonged period of time. If it did, the working class would die out and surplus value production would cease. The second fraction is the historical-moral component, which depends on the history of a given country and the course of the class struggle. The latter fraction of the real wage enables the workers to a certain extent to participate in the fruits of the development of civilization.

By contrast, Okishio assumed that the real wage of the workers would never change. Okishio then went on to prove mathematically that assuming this unchanged real wage it would never be in the interest of an individual capitalist to adopt a method of production that would actually lower the rate of profit. Assuming this unchanged real wage, the only innovations that would be adopted by the capitalists would be those that would raise the rate of profit.

Making these assumptions and using a “neo-Ricardian” model, Okishio drew the conclusion that Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall was internally inconsistent and therefore invalid. Okishio’s conclusion is very disturbing to Andrew Kliman, because Kliman’s theory of crises depends entirely on a falling rate of profit and not on the problem of realizing surplus value. Therefore, from Kliman’s point of view, if the Okishio theorem cannot be disproved, capitalism should be able, at least in theory, to develop without crises.

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Financialization and Marx — Pt 3. Class and Financialization

April 25, 2010

This is the concluding part of my reply to a question from a friend who wanted to know my opinion of a paper by Dick Bryan, Randy Martin and Mike Rafferty entitled “Financialization and Marx, Giving Labor and Capital a Financial Makeover,” published in the 2009 Review of Radical Political Economics.

“Households,” Bryan, Martin and Rafferty write, “live the contradiction of being both capitalist and non-capitalist at the same time. Economically, the household not only consumes commodities and reproduces labor power, it also engages finance, particularly through its exposure to credit, the demands of financial calculation, and requirements of self-funding non-wage work in old age.”

Bryan, Martin and Rafferty point to the enormous growth of consumer credit. An increasing number of people in the imperialist countries are being exploited not only as wage and salaried workers but as debtors. This is part of the phenomena called “financialization” that Bryan, Martin and Rafferty are trying to come to grips with. How does “financialization” affect class and relations among the classes?

However, Bryan, Martin and Rafferty appear to be confused, perhaps by their exposure to marginalist notions, about who is and who is not a capitalist. Without a clear understanding of what we mean by “capitalist” we cannot even begin properly to analyze class and class relationships.

To begin with, I don’t like how they use the term “households.” Bourgeois economists such as Keynes, for example, like to use the term “households” to hide class. There is a world of difference between a capitalist “household,” which lives off the profit obtained through its ownership of capital, and a working-class “household,” which lives off the income obtained from selling the labor power of one or more members of the “household” for wages.

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Financialization and Marx — Pt 2. Can the Capitalists Share Surplus Value with the Working Class?

April 11, 2010

In the last reply, I explained that skilled workers though they receive higher wages than unskilled workers do not appropriate any surplus value. On the contrary, their higher wages reflect the higher value of their labor power.

A single commodity labor power is actually an abstraction. In the real world, there are different types of labor powers—plumbers, carpenters, jewelers, assemblers, and so on with different values. However, from the viewpoint of the industrial capitalists, these different types of labor powers have the same use value, they all produce surplus value.

If one type of labor power, say that of carpenters, had a lower rate of surplus value than other types of labor power, the demand for the commodity carpenter labor power would drop causing the wages of carpenters to drop and raising the rate of surplus value.

Likewise, if the rate of surplus value was higher for carpenter labor power than average, the demand for the commodity carpenter labor power would rise. This would cause the wages of carpenters to rise, lowering the rate of surplus value on carpenter labor power. Therefore, over time—assuming the absence of monopolies—the rate of surplus value produced by each type of labor power tends towards equality with all other types of labor power.

It is extremely inconvenient to treat each type of the commodity labor power as a different type of commodity. So in order to simplify, we make an abstraction. We view each type of skilled commodity labor power as a collection of simple labor powers. Each individual member of the collection—simple labor power—produces on average in an hour an hour of abstract labor—the very substance of value once it becomes embodied in a commodity.

Similarly, a very unskilled type of labor power would represent a fraction of a simple labor power. It might take a number of these labor powers to add up a single simple labor power.

This situation doesn’t exist in reality—it is an abstraction. However, once we make this abstraction, which is made daily though unconsciously in the market place, we simplify the problem greatly. After all, practical businesspeople often talk about “labor” costs without making a distinction between the particular types of “labor.” When businesspeople talk about “labor,” they—and the vulgar economists as well—mean the costs of labor power, since they buy the workers’ ability to work and not “labor.”

Therefore, instead of using the term simple labor power, we simply have to refer to the commodity labor power. I believe that when Marx used the term labor power without qualification, that is what he meant.

Were the higher values of the labor powers of the skilled workers the underlying cause of the betrayal of August 4, 1914?

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The Monthly Review School

February 28, 2010

One of our readers wants to know what is my opinion of the “Monthly Review School.” Before reading this reply, I strongly urge readers to read my reply on the “transformation problem” if you have not already done so. This reply depends in part on the arguments developed in that reply.

The Monthly Review School is a tendency in U.S. Marxism centered on the monthly socialist magazine Monthly Review, which has been published since 1949. Though it has never been organized in the form of a political party, it is held together by certain common ideas in both economics and politics.

The book “Monopoly Capital,” published in 1966 and co-authored by the Marxist economists Paul Sweezy (1910-2004) and Paul Baran (1910-1964), is considered by its members to be the leading work produced by the school. The central figure of the tendency was the remarkable Harvard-trained U.S. economist Paul Sweezy.

In addition to Paul Sweezy, the most important figures in the Monthly Review School included Paul Baran, who like Sweezy was a professional economist and author of the “Political Economy of Growth” (1955); Leo Huberman (1903-1968), a talented popularizer of Marxist ideas; Harry Braverman (1920-1976), who was an industrial worker and trade unionist before joining Monthly Review and whose main work is “Labor and Monopoly Capital”; and economist Harry Magdoff (1913-2006), author of the “Age of Imperialism” (1969) among other works.

The current editor of Monthly Review, is John Bellamy Foster (1953- ), a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. He can be considered the school’s current leader. He is very knowledgeable in economics, and has written much about Marx’s views on ecology and agriculture.

The Monthly Review School bears the marks of the society that produced it, that of the United States. The United States not only had by far the highest degree of capitalist development in the last century. It was—and is—the center of world imperialism. Along with Great Britain, the United States by the beginning of the current century had become the leading example of the decay of capitalism in the imperialist countries.

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Why Prices Rise Above Labor Values During a Boom

January 3, 2010

Nikolas wants a clearer explanation of exactly what causes commodity prices to rise above their labor values during the upswing in the industrial cycle. In order to fully grasp the nature of the capitalist industrial cycle, it is important to understand why this is so.

In my answer to Nikolas, I want to emphasize that I am discussing changes in prices in terms of money material, or gold. I am not interested here in price changes that represent changes in the value of paper money in terms of real money—gold. I am also assuming for purposes of simplification a single ideal industrial cycle and ignore the question of long waves or long cycles in prices, since these do not affect the basic argument I am making.

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Can the World Market Ever Become Exhausted?

November 29, 2009

A century ago, the belief that the world market was headed for eventual exhaustion was widely accepted among the left wing of the Social Democracy, especially in the German-speaking world. But the refutations of Rosa Luxemburg’s “Accumulation of Capital” and her “Anti-Critique,” based on Marx’s volume II diagrams of capitalist reproduction, pretty much discredited the idea that the world-market could ever face a situation ofpermanent exhaustion.

Cyclical crises were viewed as being caused by disproportions among the various branches of production. Such disproportions were viewed as temporary. In the long run, the limits of the market were seen as the limits of production.

Yet no less a Marxist than Frederich Engels himself apparently shared the idea that the world market could become exhausted. Engels believed this not only in the days of his youth but at the very end of his life. In chapter 31 of volume III of “Capital,” Marx’ used British export data to demonstrate that each successive peak in the industrial cycle exceeded its predecessor. Engels included in brackets this interesting note, which I will quote in full:

“Of course, this holds true of England only in the time of its actual industrial monopoly; but it applies in general to the whole complex of countries with modern large-scale industries, as long as the world-market is still expanding [emphasis added—SW].”

So in 1894—the year before he died—Engels could still imagine a time when the world market would no longer be expanding. It is significant that the above remarks of Engels appear in volume III of “Capital,” nine years after Engels had brought out volume II of “Capital,” the volume that includes Marx’s famous diagrams of simple and expanded reproduction. Therefore, presumably Engels was throughly versed in Marx’s theories and mathematical diagrams of simple and expanded reproduction, but he apparently didn’t draw the conclusion that so many other Marxists drew from them. That conclusion being that as long as the correct proportions were maintained between the various branches of production, the market would only be limited by production.

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The ‘Long Cycle’—Summary and Conclusions

November 1, 2009

In this series of posts, I have examined the question of whether the capitalist economy experiences cycles that are considerably longer than the industrial cycles of approximately 10 years. It’s been proposed by various economists over the last hundred years that in addition to 10-year industrial cycles and shorter “inventory cycles,” there also exists a “long cycle” of approximately 50 years’ duration.

Over the last several months, I have examined the concrete history of the cycles and crises that have occurred in the global capitalist economy from the crisis of 1847 to the crisis of 2007-09. Over these 161 years, we have seen decades when economic growth surged ahead, and other periods dominated by prolonged depression or stagnation.

Changing patterns of cycles and crises

While industrial cycles of approximately 10 years have been a remarkably persistent feature of capitalism, there have been periods when these cycles have been suppressed by world wars and other periods when we have had only partial cycles.

For example, the two world wars of the 20th century suppressed to a considerable degree the entire process of expanded capitalist reproduction. Since industrial cycles arise within the broader process of the expanded reproduction of capital, wartime suppression of expanded capitalist reproduction suppressed the industrial cycle.

After the super-crisis of 1929-33—itself part of the aftermath of the World War I war economy—there was no complete industrial cycle. The brutal deflationary policy of the Roosevelt administration in 1936-37 prevented the cyclical recovery of 1933-37 developing into a real boom. The war economy of World War II replaced the recovery that followed the 1937-38 recession before it could develop into a boom. Therefore, in the years from the super-crisis of 1929-33 until after World War II we saw only partial industrial cycles.

No full industrial cycle between 1968 and 1982

There was also no complete industrial cycle between 1968 and the beginning of the “Volcker shock” in 1982. During the recessions of 1970 and 1974-75, governments and central banks attempted to force recoveries through deficit spending and monetary expansion. Under the conditions prevailing at that time, these repeated attempts to force a recovery simply led to panicky flights from the dollar and paper currencies in general, causing the recoveries to abort. Full industrial cycles of more or less 10-year duration only reappeared after the Volcker shock of 1979-82.

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Does Capitalist Production Have a Long Cycle? (pt 10)

September 6, 2009

The coming of World War II and the end of the Great Depression

According to the conventional wisdom, it was World War II that brought the Depression to an end. At least as far the United States is concerned, it is indeed true that it was the war mobilization that finally ended the mass unemployment that had existed since the fall of 1929.

Mass unemployment that was lingering in the United States as late as 1941 gave way to the “war prosperity” that the United States enjoyed during World War II. As far as many, perhaps most, Americans were concerned—the exception being those who faced actual combat—the wartime shortages and rationing, and even the rigors of military service, were a relief from the chronic idleness and hopelessness that had marked the Depression years.

Lives and careers that had been put on hold through the Depression decade could finally get back on track. People who had not been able to get any meaningful job during the 1930s could finally get jobs, get married, and start to raise families. This is the reason why the United States experienced a baby boom when the war ended.

As I have explained in earlier posts, a full-scale war economy is very different than the boom phase of the industrial cycle, even if both a boom and a war economy reduce or eliminate unemployment. The shift of the United States to an all-out war economy starting in 1942 implied a net consumption of the value of capital in the United States rather than the accumulation of capital that occurs during the boom phase of the industrial cycle.

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Does Capitalist Production Have a Long Cycle? (pt 9)

August 30, 2009

Because the industrial cycles that have occurred since 1945 have unfolded in a very different political environment than those before 1945, I will devote this post to examining these extremely important political changes.

From the recession of 1937-38 to the end of World War II

The upswing in the industrial cycle—interrupted by the Roosevelt deflation—resumed by mid-1938 as the administration and Federal Reserve System quickly reversed their deflationary measures. However, the recovery that began in mid-1938 started at a much lower level than that of mid-1937 when the Roosevelt recession began. Then before the industrial cycle could reach a new boom—or even get very far into the stage of average prosperity—the war economy took over. As we have already seen, a full-scale war economy suppresses the industrial cycle by suppressing the normal process of capitalist expanded reproduction.

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Does Capitalist Production Have a Long Cycle? (pt 7)

August 14, 2009

Eightieth anniversary of start of super-crisis

To understand the policies that are being followed by the governments and central banks today as they combat the aftermath of the panic of last fall and winter, you need to understand the events of 80 years ago. The current governments and central bankers are very much haunted by the ghost of the Depression.

Several weeks ago, I explained how World I and its war economy had led to a huge divergence between prices and values. This contradiction reached it peak in the spring of 1920 and was partially resolved by the deflationary recession of 1920-21. Why then didn’t the Great Depression begin with the deflation of 1920 rather than in 1929?

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