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Capitalism without Crises?

At the end of his paper, Fred Moseley makes several statements that are important to parse. (PDF: )

This conclusion suggests that the debate over whether or not gold still plays a role in the function of measure of value in today’s economy is less important for Marx’s theory than previously thought. Whether or not gold still plays such a monetary role, i.e. whether it is assumed that credit money represents SNLT directly by itself, or indirectly through gold, it does not make any difference to the quantitative determination of the MELT in Marx’s theory. In both cases, the MELT is equal to the ratio Mp V / L, as in equation (7). Therefore, it also does not make any difference to the determination of the aggregate price level, nor of the total surplus-value produced.

Moseley argues Marx’s theory of money can be dispensed with, since it plays no role in determination of value, prices, and surplus value. As a practical matter, Moseley appears to be right on this: even in the absence of commodity money, labor produces value and surplus value. And, commodity money plays only a symbolic or token role in prices. Finally, if I interpret Marx correctly, money and the circulation of commodities occupy antagonistic poles not only in circulation itself, but between circulation, on the one hand, and a hoard of gold, on the other. Which is to say, between capital (as wealth in circulation, as self-expanding value) and money (as wealth at rest.).

If capital was not prone to crises arising from the mode of production itself, money in Marx’s sense of that term would be unnecessary. This is the side of the equation that Moseley grasps onto as if it is the whole of Marx’s theory of money. Mosley’s argument requires a capitalism without overaccumulation (overproduction) of capital, without crises and stoppages of industry. Once all these elements of capitalism are reintroduced into his argument, that argument collapses and must collapse. Now, the circulation of commodities is no longer smooth and unvarying, but subject to interruptions, imbalances, even periodic collapses. During these periods of crises what serves as money is of acute importance — it cannot be symbolic or token money, but must be actual gold.

During crises, the nominal value of token money, bills of exchange, derivatives, bonds, etc. vanish — as is happening right now in Europe. This devaluation of token money and credit money is expressed as the sudden appreciation of gold “prices” against all symbolic monies.

What remains to be shown is that even if we assume no overaccumulation, crises or industrial stoppages, Moseley never shows in his paper that symbolic or token money can not only serve as measure of the value of commodities, but actually materialize this value in its own form — these two are not the same thing.

To understand the difference consider the difference between labor power employed to produce an automobile or a manicure, and that employed to clear an occupation, or a village in Afghanistan. In the first case labor power is employed to produce a thing having value — even if this employment itself produces no material object. In the second case labor power is not employed to produce anything but broken bones and corpses. In either case tokens can be used to purchase the labor power employed, but only in the first case does the labor power replace its value.

If we consider the capitalist mode of production as the continuous circulation of value through the process of self-expansion the result is obvious: in the first case we get not only the replacement of the value of the labor power, but an additional surplus value; while, in the second case, we get neither replacement of the value of the labor power, nor any
surplus value — just piles of dead bodies.

The quantity of value in circulation has undergone a contraction in the second case of unproductive employment of labor power. Yet, there is no alteration of the quantity of symbols of money in circulation. While it is true these symbols of money now expressed the diminished quantity of values in circulation just as readily as they did the larger quantity previously, it is also clear that they express it the same way a bucket expresses the quantity of water it contains. There is, in fact, no way to tell how much water there is in the bucket merely by examining its outside. Is the bucket full? Half full? Or, empty? Does the bucket contain only water, or does it also contain oil or some other contaminant? If the bucket contains both water and oil, in what proportion are the two liquids present in the bucket.

The fact is, according to Marx’s theory of money, with debased tokens of money it is impossible to separate the socially necessary expenditures of labor time, from labor time that is wasted and unproductive. Without the ability to distinguish between the productive expenditure of labor time and unproductive expenditure of labor time we are led into the fallacy of neoclassical economic theorists who propose the prices of commodities are identical with their values. And, that the total sum of prices of commodities in circulation is identical with the total sum of values of those commodities.

When Andrew Kliman admitted that MELT is not a diagnostic tool, he was admitting that MELT was unable to distinguish socially necessary labor time of society, from labor time that is totally wasted and unproductive. But, the entire point of the social revolution is predicated on just this material differentiation. The whole of the struggle between the two great classes of capitalist society is a fight over what is socially necessary labor time. This takes the immediate form of the fight over the division of the social labor day between wages and profits, i.e., between value and surplus value. But, in the final analysis, it is a fight over labor time that is socially necessary in both these categories, and labor time that is superfluous to either category.

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