The Real Movement

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Tag: secular stagnation

The Great Unsolved Mystery of the 20th Century: Why did the Soviet Union collapse?

Despite its devastating impact on global relations between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie within the world market, the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union remains mostly unexplained. A large body of literature has been produced to explain the collapse, but, to my mind, very little of it provides a satisfactory explanation.

So I took up reading this paper, recommended by someone on ask.fm, A Reassessment of the Soviet Industrial Revolution, by Robert C. Allen, without the expectation it would add much to the subject.

I was wrong. I now think it is a must read.

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

This article, Devaluations didn’t work, points to what I think is the real reason the Federal Reserve is desperate to raise its policy rate some time this year. It is becoming increasingly obvious monetary policy hasn’t delivered and the bankers are in danger of losing their control of economic policy.

According to the Economist: “Devaluations today haven’t had the positive impacts the end of Gold Standard did in the 1930s”. In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008-2009, bourgeois simpletons are deeply divided over how to replace the extraordinary measures taken to prevent collapse of capitalism with a set of policy tools that can be used to manage the crisis long-term. At the heart of this struggle is the question,

“Why aren’t currency devaluation policies creating inflation?”

To answer this question will require a little bit of economic history.

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The Myth of Secular Stagnation, Part Two

In part one of my blog post, The Myth of Secular Stagnation, I explained the background to the debate among bourgeois simpleton economists. The stagnation debate among bourgeois economists begins with the Great Depression and Keynes’ characterization of the problem of the Great Depression as “technological unemployment”. The source of the technological unemployment was the improvement in the productivity of labor, the industrial revolution wrought by capital. For Keynes in 1930, this was not necessarily a malady in and of itself, it promised a future where labor itself would be abolished. The transition to a society of less work might be very painful, but the distress was only temporary.

By 1933, however, Keynes’ argument had changed: although he continued to insist that, technically, the “economic problem” had been solved he now focused on the problem of restoring capitalist profit. The Great Depression was no longer caused by the lack of investment opportunities, instead there was a lack of sufficient state deficit spending. The Great Depression, now having lasted 3 years, required state intervention; “a blend of economic theory with the art of statesmanship”.

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Husson’s and Treillet’s call for labor hours reduction: Important but seriously flawed

I just finished reading this article by Michel Husson & Stephanie Treillet on the significance of labor hours reduction, Liberation Through Vacation. I want to offer some thought on why I think it is, on sfweek29ethe whole, as important as it is disappointing. I make these points, not because I disagree with what I think was the intended thrust of their article, but because certain folks will go after Husson’s and Treillet’s argument. For instance, A. Kliman has already taken David Graeber and others to task for their weak arguments on labor as just another attempt to rebrand social democracy. (See Kliman’s, Post-Work: Zombie Social Democracy with a Human Face?) My point here is to expose weaknesses in their argument because Husson and Treillet’s main thrust is, after SYRIZA’s election, the most important development to emerge from the crisis in 2015.

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The Myth of Secular Stagnation, Part One

What is behind the concern over secular stagnation? Is it possible to understand this concern within the context of the labor theory of value? I ask that because almost all discussion of secular stagnation takes place in the context of neoclassical/Keynesian theory. To answer the question, I will look at several papers and article on the subject summers-blanchard-bernankewritten from within neoclassical/Keynesian theory that attempt to make sense of the problem.

My perspective, however, will be unique in relation to the writers, because I will argue that stagnation is not a symptom of capitalist crisis per se, but a symptom of increasingly ineffective fascist state management of national capitals. In my perspective, capital has already suffered the breakdown of production on the basis of exchange value. This occurred in the Great Depression and was irreversible. However, after that breakdown, the fascist state stepped in and assumed management of the production of surplus value. The subject of the discussion of secular stagnation is the increasingly ineffective system of state management of capitalist production, not the operation of national capitals, per se.

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Simpleton economists and the “puzzle of secular stagnation”

748Ryan Avent wants us to think economics is too complicated to be understood by anyone but simpletons — our economic troubles are all just too complicated:

“Economic puzzles have been in no short supply in recent decades. New ones keep appearing without waiting for old ones to be solved. The productivity puzzle that began in the 1970s persists, thanks to the apparent fizzle in productivity growth since the internet boomlet of 1996-2004—and despite what looks to many like an ongoing acceleration in technological discovery. The British economy has developed its own acute version of the productivity puzzle; over the course of the financial crisis and recovery productivity collapsed, shielding the economy from labour-market carnage. There are puzzles of wage stagnation and falling labour-force participation. There are savings glut puzzles and secular stagnation puzzles. The common thread linking the puzzles is that they almost always mean trouble of one sort or another.”

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