[Marxism] Is Growth Over?

Ralph Johansen mdriscollrj at charter.net
Wed Jan 16 16:14:23 MST 2013

Louis Proyect wrote

On 1/16/13 1:38 PM, Ralph Johansen wrote:

    Would you elaborate please? I must have missed this, and though I may be
    I don't think I'm alone.

Hans was commenting on my latest blog post:

Yes, Hans apparently has an inside track as host where the "Re:" does 
not appear in the title of his posts and may not appear in the thread, 
but I was responding to his take on your article.
Hans Ehrbar wrote:

 > Even the mainstream is coming to the conclusion that there
 > are conditions making growth possible that we do not
 > understand very well.

Ralph asked me to elaborate and to explain better why I thought this was 
a summary of Lou's blog post.
I have been reading a different vein of thought, more than one vein but 
complementary on the issue of growth and in some respects apart from 
climate and resource constraints, all within the Marxist ambit. I'm sure 
you have too, but let me spell it out and ask what you counter-pose 
specifically from your reading in the economic literature:

One, the most broad, is Meszaros, who elaborates on the structural 
crisis of capital which he distinguishes from cyclical crises and which 
he characterizes as creeping, ineluctable and untenable, and as having 
its most recent origins in the 60s and 70s, as a further development in 
what he characterizes as the "productively descending phase of capital", 
for which there is no systemic amelioration.

Characteristic of this structural crisis of capital according to 
Meszaros are:

capital's failure to satisfy even the elementary need for food not only 
in "marginal zones" but for countless millions, as clearly evidenced by 
food riots in many countries;

the increasingly destructive encroachment of capital-expansion on nature;//

an ever-intensifying need for the militaristic/monopolistic extension 
and overstretch of its structural framework, tending in due course on 
the internal productive plane toward the establishment and the 
criminally wasteful operation of a "permanent arms industry"//;

two devastating /global wars,/ as well as the total annihilation of 
humankind implicit in a potential /Third World War;/

all in addition to the ongoing perilous destruction of nature that 
became evident in the second half of the twentieth century;

and the ongoing liquidation of the relative achievements of the postwar 
Welfare State---in the field of social security, health care, and 
education---even in the handful of privileged capitalist countries where 
they were once instituted.

To which he adds that "Capital itself is an all-embracing mode of 
/control; /which means that it either controls everything or it implodes 
as a system of societal reproductive control. Consequently, capital as 
such cannot be controlled in some of its aspects while leaving the rest 
at its place. All attempted measures and modalities of "controlling" 
capital's various functions on a lasting basis have failed in the past. 
In view of its /structurally entrenched uncontrollability/---which means 
that there is no conceivable leverage /within the structural framework 
of the capital system itself/ through which the system itself could be 
brought under lasting control---capital must be completely /eradicated./ 
This is the central meaning of Marx's lifework/./"

Then there is the charge led by Andrew Kliman in which Alan Freeman, 
Michael Roberts, Sam Williams, Carchedi in part and others join, 
resurrecting, convincingly so far in my opinion, Marx's labor theory of 
surplus value, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and the 
primacy of labor as the only agent of change from its challenge in 
various ways by the Monthly Review school, Panitch and Gindin, David 
Harvey, Michael Heinrich and other contemporary discussants.

The gist of this argument as I understand it (and you may well correct 
some part of my description) is that since at least the 70s in the US 
with the increase in the organic composition of capital has come a 
decrease in the rate of profit (not the mass of profit), though not a 
decline in wages when benefits and so-called "entitlements" are factored 
in. This impairs the incentive to invest capital qua productive capital. 
And then the only remedy, within the system that is, to crisis triggered 
by stagnation and partly by the oligopoly of finance and casino 
speculation guaranteed by government taxpayer funds, and the permanent 
slump facing us is the gutting of the system (as the Austrian school are 
well aware) in the sense of bottoming out to form the basis for a 
regeneration of accumulation, and not some putative Keynesian panacea. 
This underlies austerity throughout the world system and growing 
authoritarian measures, ultimately for emerging economies as well. And 
by implication the real historic limits to growth under a system of 
capital metabolic control.

What's the interface between these contentions and what you are saying 
in response to Lou's article, "that there are conditions making growth 
possible that we do not understand very well", and concerning the "model 
which takes growth for granted [that] all we need is living labor and 
past labor (capital) and somehow increases in technology will fall like 
mannah from heaven and the economy will grow. Technology does not create 
unemployment but, since it leads to growth, increase overall labor 
demand" - to which you seem to counter only with Marx's attack on the 
so-called "theory of compensation" without spelling it out, and the 
limits to natural resources and planetary viability, including energy?

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