Ron Press' observation

jones/bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Mon Apr 3 17:27:55 MDT 1995


Believe it or not, I share Ron's and Louis' concerns with graduate student
scholaticism.  However, at the same time, I think that theoretical work is
essential, especially in order to critique bourgeois and reactionary
socialist solutions to economic crisis (this is why I think Mattick's Marx
and Keynes: the limits of the mixed economy is such an important work,
fully in the tradition of Anti-Proudhon, a Critique of Political Economy,
Anti-Duhring).

Moreover I do not think that the sort of ontological commitments which seem
to be defended by Bhaskar have much to do with Marx's critique of political
economy. It seems to me that there is a real difference between Bhaskar's
and Postone's work--the latter is not a philosopher but a social theorist
attempting to understand the many forms of domination and compulsion--not
all reducible to class exploitation--which inhere in commodity-producing
socity and can only be abolished with the abolition of commodity
production.

In his analysis of what he calls the treadmill of capitalist production,
Moishe Postone  also demonstrates at a high level of abstraction why
increased labor productivity in itself does not increase wealth in its
capitalist form--value.

  In the passage which I cite below, Andrew Kliman makes a similar argument
in the course of his critique of the international competitiveness and
productivity programmes which now dominate policy-makers from the US to
South Africa to India.  I initially sent this message to the progressive
economists list.
____________________________________________________________________________
____

Gene Coyle called for discussion on the following article


>Today's Wall Street Journal (3/29) had two interesting features.  On
>the front page was "Middle Class's Fears About Coming Years Might Be
>Misguided."  It argues that there is good reason to believe that living
>standards will get better over the next two decades.  "Technology,
>Global Markets Bode Well for U.S. firms And for Living Standards."

As evidence of the productivity and competitiveness craze, this article is
about as good as it gets.  To get the discussion started, I would like to
quote from  Andrew Kliman:

"Viewed in light of the law of value as Marx analyzed it in Capital, the
current strategies aimed at enhancing 'competitiveness' and productivity
can be seen to have a certain, though strictly limited, validity.  While
all new value and surplus value is only new 'congealed' labor extracted out
of the labor force, individual capitals and capitalist nations appropriate
value not only by extracting it by their own workers but also by means of
competitive redistribution.  The more productive capitals appropriate more
social value and surplus value than the individual value and surplus value
they extract, and conversely for the less productive."


Perhaps what American capital hopes to achieve via  the globalization of
markets is the prolongation of the period in which extra surplus value can
be achieved.  In a globalized marketplace, equipped with the latest
technologies,  American capital may attempt  to produce at less than
socially necessary labor time; indeed socially necessary labor time may
itself be momentarily redetermined upward for capital -intensive producers
by the new competition of  inefficient firms upon which  the law of value
will eventually fall however as a law of gravity. Andrew does not argue
this, and he may well disagree with me.  I raise it as a hypothesis.

As I am suggesting then, globalization may enable individual capitals and
capital nations to appropriate more social value and surplus value FOR A
LONGER PERIOD than the individual value and surplus value a "high
productivity" or "competitive" capital  itself extracts. It may not only be
access to markets that American capital may require but also the momentary
upward redetermination of socially necessary labor time effected by the
operation of the law of value in a truly globalized marketplace.

The possibility of extra surplus value gives "Reason for Hope" (as the WSJ
article is headlined) that "the middle class" will perhaps even be able to
share in total surplus value, as it is competitively redistributed--or
perhaps more realistically will merely  be free (temporarily) of capital's
global attempt to depress wages below the value of labor-power or the
horrific slide into one of the many forms of the global industrial reserve
army of labor and surplus populations.

But Andrew is a pessimist, it seems.  Explaining the effects of the waves
of competition on the islands of extra surplus value, Andrew K continues:
"To the extent that the less productive competitors catch up, however, such
superprofit is eliminated: this process only redistributes the substance of
value.  Apart from its secondary effect in lowering the value of wages,
greater productivity neither generates additional profit nor raises the
rate of profit.  The SAME amount of abstract labor is merely spread among a
greater number of articles. Moreover, the mechanization of production that
is largely responsible for greater labor productivity becomes a tendency
for the rate of profit to fall, "the self-expansion of capital", to
decline, as value-transferring means of production are substituted for
value-creating living labor.

"Hence, the quest for global 'competitiveness' restricts capital's ability
to give greater employment to labor, while failure to do so restricts
capital's ability to grow.  Under such conditions, any renewal of
profitability depends largely on increasing  surplus value at the expense
of variable capital (living labor, wages). Austerity is consequently not a
temporary way-station on the road to 'free market' prosperity, but the
future of the continuing global economic crisis."


 Kliman suggests however  that less efficient firms actually "catch up."
This seems to preserve a standard  view of competition as adjustment; in
real life, firms are destroyed, forever falling behind in capacities and
resources.  The accumulation process is simultaneously a concentration and
centralization of capital on a world scale.  What this means for the
morphology of the global capitalist economy is not really dealt with by
Andrew in his marvelously succinct article. I would suspect that it has
implications for the class struggle.

At any rate, if Marx's theory is correct, the productivity increases which
even  many progressive economists hope to achieve via, for example, new
"social structures of accumulation", can be nothing but temporary
nationalist solutions. I am surprised that there has not been more open
debate on this line among "the heavies" on an issue of such importance.


Sources:

Andrew Kliman "The new forms of appearance of state capitalism". News and
Letters. December 1992.

for a similar treatment, see Guglielmo Carchedi, 1991. Frontiers of
Political Economy. Verso.

Rakesh Bhandari



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