On Postone’s concept of the hollowing out of working society – XV

by Jehu

I took so long to write this post because I had to completely rethink my roadmap.

Somewhere I dropped a thread, I think. I have to address an important issue before I move forward. In particular, I want to point out a queer anomaly between the two charts below to see if everyone else can see what I see in the stylized chart I created applying Marx’s argument on our poor, historically doomed 19th century hand-loom weavers to Roosevelt’s poor, historically doomed depression-era dirt farmers.

First, here is the dirt farmers’ chart:

And here is the chart I created employing the actual historical data from the Great Depression:

Can you see my problem?

If you are sharp, you will notice, that my original chart for Roosevelt’s poor, historically doomed depression-era dirt farmers doesn’t predict any change in the mass of socially necessary labor time created by Roosevelt’s intervention in 1933 through the Agriculture Adjustment Program and dollar devaluation against gold. Yet the actual historical data show there was actually a huge change in the mass of socially necessary labor time following Roosevelt’s intervention.

There was not just a huge change in the United States, according to most students of the Great Depression, every country that altered the gold standard in the 1930s saw a similar result:

According to later analysis, the earliness with which a country left the gold standard reliably predicted its economic recovery. For example, The UK and Scandinavia, which left the gold standard in 1931, recovered much earlier than France and Belgium, which remained on gold much longer. … The connection between leaving the gold standard as a strong predictor of that country’s severity of its depression and the length of time of its recovery has been shown to be consistent for dozens of countries, including developing countries. This partly explains why the experience and length of the depression differed between regions and states across the world. (Wikipedia)

Again, here is the dirt farmers’ chart based on stylized model, which show no alteration in the trajectory of socially necessary labor time:

And here is the chart based on the actual historical data, where, in reality, we get a sharp alteration in the mass of socially necessary labor time in 1933 that basically brings the contraction phase of the Great Depression to an end and begins a recovery of sorts — although this recovery is decidedly tentative and halting.

As can be seen in the above chart, “real” GDP, as measured in exchange value (gold), immediately stops contracting in 1933. By 1937, it is approaching where it was in 1932, when another downturn occurs in 1938. It seems that, by increasing the mass of superfluous labor time, Roosevelt’s devaluation and public spending not only stopped the economic contraction in place, but actually boosted the production of exchange value.

Recall again the argument Marx makes in the Grundrisse that capital “posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition … for the necessary.”

And in “Time, Labor and Social Domination”, Postone takes this to mean that “With advanced industrial capitalist production, the productive potential developed becomes so enormous that a new historical category of “extra” time … emerges … in the form of “superfluous” labor time.”

This extra time emerges because capital cannot dispense with the unnecessary labor time, since labor time is social wealth for capital even when it is superfluous to the production of material wealth. On the other hand, as can be seen from the actual historical data, this growing mass of superfluous labor time is not just necessary for capital in its own right, it is now also the condition (Marx says the “life or death” condition) for the further expansion of socially necessary labor time.

To understand how this works, think of all of those workers who need subsistence wages while they are building aircraft carriers to threaten the planet.

Good jobs at good wages!

As I will show, this is, by far, the most staggering implication to be drawn from the chart above.