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A fourth note on Moseley’s “Money and Totality”

Moseley makes this argument:

“(4) the initial money capital M at the beginning of the circuit of money capital is taken as given, as initial data, both in the macro theory of the total surplus-value and in the micro theory of the individual parts of surplus-value…”

Marx does indeed argue that money capital is the start of the circuit of capital. However, he does not begin with money capital. The very existence of capitalist production — money, the means of production and labor power — must first be explained. All three, (money, means and labor power), are commodities whose existence in the market presumes commodity production (i.e., production based on exchange value). Marx therefore begins not with the circuit of capital, but with the commodity.

Of course, Moseley doesn’t agree with Marx that money must be a commodity. Therefore, it doesn’t matter to him that all of the categories of capital — money, means and labor power — have their genesis in a single undifferentiated form. Fortunately for us, Marx believed money had to explained before it could serve as the starting point of the circuit of capital, just as he believed the appearance of labor power on the market as a commodity for sale had to be explained — not given.

Marx, in fact, appears to think his account of the origin of money is rather clever and important:

“Every one knows, if he knows nothing else, that commodities have a value form common to them all, and presenting a marked contrast with the varied bodily forms of their use values. I mean their money form. Here, however, a task is set us, the performance of which has never yet even been attempted by bourgeois economy, the task of tracing the genesis of this money form, of developing the expression of value implied in the value relation of commodities, from its simplest, almost imperceptible outline, to the dazzling money-form. By doing this we shall, at the same time, solve the riddle presented by money.”

In contrast to bourgeois economy, which took (and still takes) money as a given, Marx thought it needed to be explained. He therefore devoted the entire first section of Capital v1 to explaining the origin of the money that forms the starting point of his analysis of capital.

By contrast, Moseley wants us to simply assume the existence of money. Once we assume it already exists, he assures us, the transformation problem disappears:

“In this book, it will be argued that, if Marx’s logical method is interpreted in this way, then there is no ‘transformation problem’ in Marx’s theory…”

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A third note on Moseley’s “Money and Totality”

In his preface, Moseley claims:

“(3) the logical framework of Marx’s theory of the production and distribution of surplus-value is the circuit of money capital, which is expressed symbolically as: M – C … P … C′ – M′, where M′ = M + ΔM and the main goal of the theory is to explain the origin and magnitude of the total ΔM in the economy as a whole …” (Moseley, pg. 3-4)

This is probably wrong as well. To see why, let’s revisit the quote from Marx in the last note:

“What worries Ricardo is the fact that the rate of profit, the stimulating principle of capitalist production, the fundamental premise and driving force of accumulation, should be endangered by the development of production itself. And here the quantitative proportion means everything. There is, indeed, something deeper behind it, of which he is only vaguely aware. It comes to the surface here in a purely economic way — i.e., from the bourgeois point of view, within the limitations of capitalist understanding, from the standpoint of capitalist production itself — that it has its barrier, that it is relative, that it is not an absolute, but only a historical mode of production corresponding to a definite limited epoch in the development of the material requirements of production.” (Capital 3, ch15) [My emphasis]

Contrary to Moseley, Marx seems to be implying that Ricardo was already familiar with the fact that wage labor is the origin of profit.

What Ricardo also realized, says Marx, is that, as labor became more technically productive, the improvement in the productiveness of labor would threaten production based on exchange value, (i.e., commodity production) itself. Since production based on exchange value is the premise of production for profit, i.e., capitalist accumulation, production for profit was undermining its own material foundation. Production for profit was thus a self-negating mode of production.

There is nothing extraordinary about my argument here. This is precisely the argument made by Marx in his famous fragment on the machine:

“As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. … With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of the form of penury and antithesis.” (Grundrisse, ch14)

The idea that Marx wrote Capital to prove that labor was the origin of profit is nonsense. What Marx proved is that capital, by developing the productive power of labor, was undermining its own conditions of existence.

 

Nick Land on the Left

Nick Land: I think the terminology of left and right, for anyone like you who is fascinated by the question of ideology, it’s completely indispensable. I totally see why people get dissatisfied with that language and say “We have to move beyond this” or “This terminology ceases to be useful” but I have a sense of its kind of extreme resilience. I don’t see us ever stopping talking about the left and the right. It’s always going to come back in, I call it the prime political dimension, there is a basic dimension with left and right polarities that everyone returns to, after their wanderings and complications. And all kinds of ideological currents themselves have a strategic interest in either muddying the water or trying to get people to rethink what they mean.

“But in the end, people come back to this basic dimension of ideological possibility and I think it is the one that captures the accelerationist tendency most clearly. On the right end of that is the extreme laissez faire, Manchester liberal, anarcho-capitalism kind of commitment to the maximum deregulation of the technological and economic process. And on the opposite extreme is a set of constituencies that seek in various ways to — polemically, I would say words like “impede” and “obstruct” and “constrain” and whatever, but I realize that’s just my rightism on display. And there are other ways of saying that, to regulate it or control it or to humanize it, I wouldn’t try and do a sufficiently sophisticated ideological Turing test on myself to try and get that right you know?

“But I don’t think there’s any real … It’s not really questionable, which of those impulses is in play and I think that it’s on that dimension that so-called left-accelerationism is left, I mean, it’s left because it is basically in a position of deep skepticism about the capitalist process. It’s accelerationist only insofar as it thinks there is some other — I would say magical — source of acceleration that is going to be located somewhere outside that basic motor of modernity. They gesture towards the fact that things will somehow still be accelerating when you just chuck the actual motor of acceleration in the scrap. And I think that is the left.”

More of this fascinating interview here.

A second note on Moseley’s “Money and Totality”

This is a second observation on Fred Moseley’s “Money and Totality”.

In the first observation, I wondered how Moseley defined the category, money. This observation asks how Moseley defines capital itself.

In his preface to the work, Moseley says this:

“(2) the subject of the theory is not ‘two systems’, but is instead a single system throughout – the actual capitalist economy – which is analysed first at the macro level of the total economy and is then subsequently analysed at the micro level of individual industries”. (Moseley, pg. 3)

Marx appears to contradict this view of capital. In volume three, he offers this conception of capital:

“What worries Ricardo is the fact that the rate of profit, the stimulating principle of capitalist production, the fundamental premise and driving force of accumulation, should be endangered by the development of production itself. And here the quantitative proportion means everything. There is, indeed, something deeper behind it, of which he is only vaguely aware. It comes to the surface here in a purely economic way — i.e., from the bourgeois point of view, within the limitations of capitalist understanding, from the standpoint of capitalist production itself — that it has its barrier, that it is relative, that it is not an absolute, but only a historical mode of production corresponding to a definite limited epoch in the development of the material requirements of production.” (Capital 3, ch15)

Perhaps I am overthinking this, but the conception of capital Marx presents in this passage is hardly one we would expect if Marx intended to describe “a single system throughout – the actual capitalist economy”. In Marx’s conception of the capitalist mode of production, capital appears to be a transitional ‘state of society’ (for lack of a better term): a relative, historical form of social organization, with a definite, limited shelf life.

What Moseley defines as a single system, Marx appears to define as a transition between two states.

Does this have any relevance for the transformation problem? I think it does. Marx’s conception of capital has more in common with his description of the lower phase of communism in his Critique of the Gotha Program than it has with Moseley’s “a single system throughout”.

If this idea sounds insanely bizarre to you, you’re on the right track.

A note on Moseley’s “Money and Totality”

I am now in the process of reading Fred Moseley’s “Money and Totality”. It does not look good for the professor. One of Moseley’s major theses seems to be this:

“… [The] subject of the theory throughout is a ‘single system’ – the actual capitalist economy – which is first analysed at the macro level of the total economy and is then subsequently analysed at the micro level of individual industries…” (p.3)

Two points cause me to question this assertion:

1. If what Moseley says is true, why did Marx begin not with the “economy” as a whole, but with the characteristics of its elementary particle, the individual commodity?

2. Since Moseley fundamentally disagrees with Marx that money must be a commodity, how is he defining “money” in his “Money and Totality”?

Color me highly skeptical.

Trump is different

I posted this question to the r/abolishawagelabornow and r/debateacommunist subreddits for comments:

Can communists explain why the most recent 4.1% increase in GDP and 3.9% unemployment is bad for the working class?

Trump is crowing about the impact of his economic policies. In particular he is pointing to the rather impressive GDP growth rate in the second quarter. Bloomberg reported the number this way:

“Trump seized the chance to declare his policies, including the biggest tax overhaul since the Reagan era, a success, calling the data ‘amazing’ and ‘very sustainable.’”

The Atlanta Fed is now indicating that growth in the third quarter may be as high as 5% — a shockingly high number considering recent performance of the US economy.

One of the more effective arguments against abolishing wage slavery (on both the Left and the Right) is the argument that government can create ‘full employment’ through effective economic management. The major criticism directed at this idea by the radical Left is that growth is lopsided and unequal — the rich get richer. Yet this expansion appears to be reducing the official unemployment rate among all sectors of the working class. (Wages have not benefited, so far, but why that is happening is not explained.)

From the standpoint of communists this argument is ridiculous, of course, but how do you explain to workers why GDP growth is no short-term substitute for putting an end to wage slavery? Can you explain why, even if GDP growth rate is high and rising, while the unemployment rate is low and falling, that putting an end to wage slavery is still necessary?

Supposedly, it is easy to make this argument during a crisis (although, tbh, this never seems to happen in reality), but how do we make it when “times are good”?

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Does the radical Left have a future?

A few more words about Richard Seymour’s great book, Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics. Let me say that I love this book. I love it not for the argument the author makes, but because he has eloquently put the matter almost exactly where is should be: namely, does radical politics have any future at all?

He appears to say, ‘Yes.’

But I think the implications of his argument is, ‘Probably Not. At the very minimum, the Corbynistas have a very heavy lift to radicalize the moribund Labor Party.’

And, that makes me very happy.

***** Read the rest of this entry »

Richard Seymour travels back in time to offer a word of advice to his comrades

This post is loosely based on part 2 of Richard Seymour’s 2016 book, Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics. My apologies to the author, but I could not resist. All events depicted are entirely fictional, except for the actual history of Britain between 1979-2016.

*****

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Did Trump just kill monetary dominance?

In bourgeois economic theory at least, the problem bedeviling Greece, Spain and other lesser EU countries is that they do not control their currency. The lack of an independent currency constrains the role of the state in promoting the appearance of economic growth, i.e., capital accumulation.

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Game of Trade Theory

Hypothesis to explain what we witnessed yesterday in the Rose Garden:

The EU and US agreed to end their squabble and sit down to negotiate the end of all tariffs between he two economic powers. This is understandable. The US is the largest non-EU market for the EU and the customer (so the business aphorism goes) is always right. There was no chance the EU could go toe to toe with the largest economy in the world and the necessary source of global demand.

From the standpoint of game theory, it seems the prisoners dilemma applies. That puzzle is described this way by Wikipedia:

Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of communicating with the other. The prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge, but they have enough to convict both on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the prosecutors offer each prisoner a bargain. Each prisoner is given the opportunity either to betray the other by testifying that the other committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent. The offer is:

  • If A and B each betray the other, each of them serves two years in prison
  • If A betrays B but B remains silent, A will be set free and B will serve three years in prison (and vice versa)
  • If A and B both remain silent, both of them will only serve one year in prison (on the lesser charge).

Wikipedia goes on to explain the dynamics of the play:

Because betraying a partner offers a greater reward than cooperating with them, all purely rational self-interested prisoners will betray the other, meaning the only possible outcome for two purely rational prisoners is for them to betray each other.

What the EU has done is defect on its “partner in crime” — China. By being the first to fold in the face of US pressure (who plays the role of prosecutor in this example), the EU has left China swinging in the breeze. With the EU now acting as Trump’s poodle, China will be forced to negotiate.

It is likely that both the US and EU will now turn their guns on China’s massive global surpluses.