Re Crisis? What Crisis?

Chris Burford cburford at gn.apc.org
Wed Feb 15 00:21:23 MST 1995


On Feb 14th wpc wrote further on crises.
The brief posting contains a number of
important ideas which are hard to unpack
quickly. I would at least like to make comments
on two points.

1) I agree with looking not just at
the cyclical pattern but at the secular pattern.
I also agree with the timescale. >>Capitalism is
still in historical terms a relatively immature
system.<<

We are this month only three years off the 150th
anniversary of the publishing of the Communist
Manifesto. Some of the dramatic ideas in there about
the power of capitalist commodities to bombard and
break down Chinese walls, have turned out to be
prophecies of what is still going on. The global market
similarly, although vividly in existence by 1848, is
still very much in the process of extending as it were,
vertically and horizontally; that is into every
crevice of the biosphere, and fully around all
parts of the globe. I think the timescale should be
usefully seen as stretching to the end of the next
centry. A 250 year period gives an appropriate
perspective for considering the full effects of the
capitalist mode of production (assuming it is not
interrupted of course by another economic system).

2) wpc wrote also -

>>It will be some time before we can talk about
crises due to the internal limits of the system
becoming dominant. Not until the mass of the
world's population is drawn into the system of
wage labour, and all external reserves of labour
power are exhausted will that be the case.<<

This appears to be describing what I think the
mathematicians  mean by an open system and
a closed system. It implies that until wpc's
condition is met, the system is not fully closed.
The more developed capitalist
economies are significantly to some extent
operating as open systems, and gaining benefits
from this, which could be argued to contribute
to the process of uneven development.

The inflow of only a few percent additional workers
over every five years may make quite a difference
to the dynamics of the systems, whether from Turkey to
Germany, the Caribbean to England, North Africa to
France, Latin America to the USA, the Peoples
Republic of China to Hongkong.

The process of unequal exhange of labour through
fair commodity exchange between technologically
more advanced and technologically less advanced
countries seems to me to be part of the picture, and
in some ultimate sense also parallel.

There are arguably therefore two countervailing
processes going on, a) the process of capitalist
commodity exchange incorporating everyone on the
planet into sellers of their labour power, which
would imply that capital could go anywhere evenly
to  exploit this for surplus value. b) the uneven
tendency for certain (and sometimes changing)
economies to pull ahead faster than the least
developed economies.

It is a complication for
a simplistic marxist model of uniform ruthless
capitalist expoitation across the world, that
trade between the developed economies has grown
faster than trade between north and south.
The inequalities that may help to explain this
could lie in the fact that the developed economies
are in fact open systems operating in a world
that has not yet become a fully closed system.

This could be consistent with the process of
unequal exchange being one of unequal exchange of
labour, and of the extensive economic migration
that raises political and cultural tensions.
It could be related to the fact that without
always consciously planning it, in order
to compete most effectively for relative
surplus value by employing new technology
earlier than rivals, capitalism needs labour with
a comparatively high educational and cultural level.
Hence the pattern in the economies of the little tigers
of emphasis on the educational level of the
population.

I wonder if wpc or anyone else can take this topic
further.

Chris Burford




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