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Tag: productivity of labor

Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies: Part 4

Is a fully developed communist society possible right now?

047I want to illustrate my point from the last post that to bring the labor reserve into production and so reduce hours to a minimum for everyone in society requires a much larger reduction than may be generally assumed in the literature on the subject. To do this, I will be using actual data drawn on the United States. As I will show, under present conditions in the United States the reduction of hours of labor now required to absorb the labor reserve into production may be so large as to effectively bring us to the threshold of a fully developed communist society.

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Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies: Part 3

Labor reduction and the horrific conditions of the labor reserve

I have made several important points about hours of labor reduction in the first two parts of my series “Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies”

The first point is that, according to labor theory, a reduction of hours of labor can drive the rate of profit to zero without any impact on productive employment and wages. This is an extremely important point, because much of the objection by Marxists and other workers to reducing hours of labor rests on their assumption that reducing hours will reduce wages. In fact, of all economic theories, labor theory alone suggest this cannot happen. Labor hours reduction has no impact on employment of productive workers and their wages.

thuglifeSecond, I have shown in part two of this series that when there is significant waste in employment of labor power in the economy, a reduction of hours of labor should actually increase both the number of productively employed workers and wages generally. When a significant portion of the existing employment of labor is wasted, reducing hours raises the wages of the working class.

If labor hours reduction does not negatively affect labor that produces value and surplus value, and if labor hours reduction forces capital to reduce the unproductive employment of labor power, can labor hours reduction actually eliminate unemployment altogether? To be more specific, to what extent is unemployment, underemployment and an entire body of workers who are today “unemployable” solely the product of the present 40 hours work week?

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Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies: Part 2

Steps the capitalists can take to counter a reduction in hours of labor and their effect when hours of labor are reduced

In the first part of this series, I showed that a reduction of hours of labor has no impact on wages and productive employment so long as this reduction does not actually encroach on the socially necessary labor required to produce the value of the wages of the working class. In this part, I will show why, under certain circumstances, a reduction of hours of labor will actually increase both wages and productive employment.

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Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies: Part 1

How exactly does hours of labor reduction work?

I have to say that I honestly have no idea how the minds of Marxists work — all of them, almost without exception. I have, by turns, alternately been accused of being reformist and ultra-Left for advocating hours of labor reduction. So, I thought I would show people how labor theory actually works in practice and why the struggle to reduce hours of labor is neither reformist nor ultra-Left, but a means to progressively abolish wage labor completely. It is the only real means of realizing a so-called ‘post-capitalist’ society.

What I find puzzling is that Marxists don’t seem to be able to do this very simple thought experiment on their own using Marx’s labor theory of value. The only real objection to reducing hours of labor is that Marxists don’t really want to kill capitalism in the first place.

One of the biggest problems I encounter when discussing hours of labor reduction with Marxists is not the dismissal of the idea as reformist or ultra-leftist. Rather, the problem is far more mundane and substantial. Marxists fear hours of labor reduction will plunge the working class into poverty as wages collapse with hours of labor.

This is an extremely important objection to reducing hours of labor, because it reflects what I think is a valid and extremely powerful fear among the working class. Since we live by selling our labor power, we must be suspicious of any proposal the seems to threaten that sale. However, there is no theoretical basis for this fear in labor theory as I will now show.

If you are a follower of value-form Marxism, don’t try this at home. It will only hurt your brain.

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Post-capitalism, Accelerationism, communism and the march of the job-eating killer robots

Two speculative views of what comes after capitalism for those without enough imagination to picture themselves on a beach having group sex.

The first offer some discussion of the so-called Left accelerationist writers Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. Left accelerationism is a sort of awkward nerdy, pimple-faced techno-fetishism that seeks to make Nick Land palatable to Sanders supporters.

The second discusses the even less credible argument, put forward by Channel 4 News in-house radical Paul Mason. Mason is … well, the Channel 4 News’ idea of a radical, if a radical worked for Channel 4 News. Of course no radical actually works for Channel 4 News, but if a radical did work for Channel 4 News, they would likely be a radical just like Paul Mason.

The starting point of these conceptions of life after the class-war, is the now ubiquitous prediction that soon capitalism will no longer generate enough new jobs to go around owing to the replacement of human living labor by machines.

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Can the state prevent the collapse of capitalism by printing currency?

Tom Cutterham seems to believe to the answer to that question is, Yes. Cutterham’s review of Paul Mason’s book, Postcapitalism — Forget Wikipedia — is a common enough response by some activists to any mention of communism:

“Again and again, those who predicted imminent collapse were proved wrong. There were always new ways for the system to adapt to its inherent contradictions and crises, always new markets to pry open and new forms of labour to exploit.”

Capitalism, this argument goes, is apparently capable of almost infinite adaptation. The response usually does not deny that capitalism is prone to crises, nor that these crises may trigger some political event like a social revolution. However short of a social revolution, (triggered usually by an alteration of consciousness secondary to a crisis), there is nothing inherent in capitalism driving it toward its self-annihilation.

The current iteration of this argument, which among Marxists seems to date back to Tugan-Baranowsky, is now defended by the value-form school and almost all Marxists today. This school includes very influential Marxist writers like Michael Heinrich in Germany, John Milios in Greece and David Harvey in the United States.

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The hidden conflict within the fascist state for control of economic policy (5)

I have been going through this process in order to clarify for myself the logic of the current discussion of so-called negative interest rates — an oxymoron if ever there was one. This is part five of the series; part one, part two,  part three and part four can be found here. I hope it also will have some use to readers.

Part Five: The dollar and the increasing possibility of 21st Century Currency Warfare

Can monetary policy be rescued from oblivion? Probably not. There are just too many difficulties with the idea of negative interest rates on currency.

As I explained in part four of this series, Haldane proposes that the way around the zero lower bound on monetary policy may be to impose a negative interest rate on the holders of state issued currency. If a way could be found to force the holders of currency to pay interest on the currency in their bank accounts, wallets, pockets — and even in their mattresses — the distinction between credit money and currency could be forcibly imposed on society by the state despite a zero interest rate environment.

Once stripped of its deceptive wrapping as mere monetary policy, what Haldane is proposing is the outright expropriation of your savings account, your checking account and even the currency in your wallet and cookie jar. This goes well beyond monetary policy and begins to encroach on the limits of national economic policy itself. Under the most charitable interpretation, his proposal is well into the sphere of fiscal, even currency, policy despite the attempt to conceal it behind protective coloration as a negative interest rate on currency.

For the moment, however, let’s ignore this potential objection to his proposal. Instead, let’s treat it as a proposal for a measure similar to what FDR did in 1933: pure and simple devaluation of the currency.

What are the difficulties to be considered?

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The hidden conflict within the fascist state for control of economic policy (4)

I have been going through this process in order to clarify for myself the logic of the current discussion of so-called negative interest rates — an oxymoron if ever there was one. This is part four of the series; part one, part two and part three can be found here. I hope it also will have some use to readers.

Part Four: The desperate search for an exit from failed monetary policy

“I think we got the Recovery Act right. The primary objective of our policy is having more work done, more product produced and more people earning more income. It may be desirable to have a given amount of work shared among more people. But that’s not as desirable as expanding the total amount of work.” Larry Summers, Washington Post, November 8, 2009

“We didn’t think it would take that long.” Ben Bernanke, USA Today, October 5, 2015

The disappointment with the weak impact of counterfeiting the currency was admitted by Bernanke in a recent interview. This was not supposed to happen according to the dominant monetary theory, and Ben Bernanke in particular, where the prices of commodities are a function of the supply of currency in circulation. According to Bernanke’s “quantity theory of money”, the government had this technology, the printing press, which it could use to manage the US national capital. In fact, following the financial crisis, the policy rate went to zero without providing any real stimulus at all.

The chief economist of the Bank of England, Andrew Haldane, gave a speech in September on the problems faced by monetary policy. Although Haldane never mentions Larry Summers, his speech addresses the same concerns Summers raised in his own November 2013 “secular stagnation” speech. The problem is that monetary policy, on which the United States has relied since 1979, has run into a dead end, the zero lower bound. Had Washington not stepped in and provided a multi-year, multi-trillion dollar fiscal stimulus, capitalism likely would have collapsed. No one will admit it, but this is in fact what has happened after the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

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The hidden conflict within the fascist state for control of economic policy (3)

Part Three: The Zero Lower Bound and the Collapse of Neoliberal Monetary Policy

I have been going through this process in order to clarify for myself the logic of the current discussion of so-called negative interest rates — an oxymoron if ever there was one. This is part three of the series; part one and part two can be found here. I hope it also will have some use to readers.

To recap my argument so far:

Keynes in his 1930 essay, Economic Possibilities for Our Children, diagnosed the cause of the Great Depression as the improvement in the productivity of labor. Although at first admitting this improved productivity must sooner or later require reduction of hours of labor, in his 1933 essay, The Means to Prosperity, he ultimately proposed to fix it by a two-fold strategy: First, the state should maintain abundant credit at very low interest rates to facilitate private investment; second, the state had to lift total spending on commodities through deficit spending.

By the 1970s, however, this strategy — basically a strategy to avoid reducing hours of labor — ran into the twin economic maladies of stagnation and borderline hyperinflation — sometimes called stagflation in the popular press — leading to the political movement to get rid of state management of the economy entirely. In turn, this effort to get rid of state management is more popularly referred to by the name, neoliberalism, on the Left.

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The hidden conflict within the fascist state for control of economic policy (2)

Part Two: The collapse of the Keynesian policy consensus

As I stated in my previous post, the conflict over control of state economic policy can be traced to the Great Depression. Keynes set the state economic policy framework for this conflict by tracing the cause of the Great Depression to the improvement in labor productivity. According to Keynes in 1930, the depression was caused by capital reducing the need for labor faster than it could find new uses for labor. Of course, capital only has one use for labor: the production of surplus value, production of profit. Keynes was essentially confirming Marx’s prediction that the diminishing need for labor would lead to the collapse of commodity production.

Paul_VolckerAccording to Marx’s labor theory the price of a commodity is only the expression of the “socially necessary labor time” required for production of commodities. This implied that as the labor required for production of commodities fell, so would their prices. When the Great Depression hit, the problem pointed out by Keynes, that the reduction of labor was outrunning the pace at which capital could find new uses for labor, was expressed in deflation, i.e., generally falling prices.

Marx’s argument that the prices of commodities were tied to their labor value carried deadly implications for capitalism. Since prices paid for commodities was the only way the capitalists could recover their investment. Falling prices implies growing pressure on profit. If the capitalists could not sell their commodities at prices to cover their investment plus profit, capitalist production for profit would come to a standstill.

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