You can almost smell the frustration pouring off Paul Krugman these days, as he once again proclaims the latest in a series of victories of Keynesian economic theory over its monetarists opponents.
“Sorry, guys, but as a practical matter the Fed – while it should be doing more – can’t make up for contractionary fiscal policy in the face of a depressed economy.”
Krugman’s argument, which is a continuation and expansion on a more extensive argument by Mike Konczal can be simplified: Keynesian policies are better at generating an overworked working class than monetarist policies.
After reading and commenting on David Graeber’s post at the Guardian, I feel it necessary to comment more broadly on the problem the euro-zone faces in the crisis, as well as the problem posed by the austerity regime being pursued by the member nation of the European Union. My point is to show that the errors of the bourgeois economists Reinhart and Rogoff are not, as is commonly believed, a simple math or spreadsheet error. Behind these errors is concealed the fact that the euro-zone itself is founded on a fundamental structural flaw resulting from the monetarist economic theory on which it is constructed. This flaw was nothing more than an attempt to obstruct the working class majorities of the member nations from democratic control over their economies — a flaw that is now haunting the euro-zone and will likely cause its collapse.
As a contribution to Occupy Wall Street’s efforts against debt, I am continuing my reading of William White’s “Ultra Easy Monetary Policy and the Law of Unintended Consequences” (PDF). I have covered sections A and B. In this last section I am looking at to section C of White’s paper and his conclusion.
Back to the Future
It is interesting how White sets all of his predictions about the consequences of the present monetary policies in the future tense as if he is speaking of events that have not, as yet, occurred. For instance, White argues,
“Researchers at the Bank for International Settlements have suggested that a much broader spectrum of credit driven “imbalances”, financial as well as real, could potentially lead to boom/bust processes that might threaten both price stability and financial stability. This BIS way of thinking about economic and financial crises, treating them as systemic breakdowns that could be triggered anywhere in an overstretched system, also has much in common with insights provided by interdisciplinary work on complex adaptive systems. This work indicates that such systems, built up as a result of cumulative processes, can have highly unpredictable dynamics and can demonstrate significant non linearities.”
It is as though White never got the memo about the catastrophic financial meltdown that happened in 2008. If his focus is on the “medium run” consequences of easy money that has been practiced since the 1980s, isn’t this crisis the “medium run” result of those policies? Why does White insist on redirecting our attention to an event in the future, when this crisis clearly is the event produced by his analysis.
Since Occupy Wall Street appears to be undertaking a concerted push toward addressing the growing debt servitude of the mass of working families to Wall Street banksters, I thought it might be interesting to understand how the Federal Reserve is now doubling down on a policy of manufacturing an even greater debt burden for working families under the guise of stimulating the economy.
Comments and suggestions for improvement to this post are welcomed.
I am adding additional comments to my reading of Weeks’ paper, “The theoretical and empirical credibility of commodity money” (PDF). In my first reading, I identified a problem with Weeks’ presentation of what he asserts is empirical evidence supporting a link between commodity-money and price. In my second reading I explained how Weeks’ real contribution to my understanding is his analysis of the neoclassical theory of money. In this reading, I am trying, based on Weeks’ argument to define exactly what the dollar and other fiat currencies are; and their relation both to commodity money and the circulation of commodities.
The problem posed by most Marxist attempts to analyze fiat currency is that state issued fiat is treated as if it is money when it is not; and prices denominated in a fiat currency are treated as if these prices express the value of commodities, which they do not. For years now Marxists have been asking if money can be a valueless piece of paper in Marx’s theory — the answer is no. This answer is unpalatable to many Marxists because they think it suggests Marx’s theory of money is invalid for purposes of analysis. My assumption in this post is that Marx’s theory is and remains valid AND this valueless currency is not money.
So if the dollar is not money, what is it? Why is it used for transactions? To answer these questions, we have to begin by understanding exactly how the currency works according to neoclassical theory.
Here is something I culled from Marx’s paradox of capitalist price — i.e., the so-called transformation problem — that all present variants of critical communist theory rejects (and, by all variants, I mean the usual suspects: libertarianism, Marxism and anarchism). All conflict in society is directly or indirectly a struggle over the length of the social working day. We could call this Marx’s basic theorem of social development. Marx stated his theorem this way:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.
But, this class struggle has always more or less directly or indirectly revolved around the uncompensated labor of one portion of society.
All three variants of communist consciousness have advanced their petty demands, while remaining mute on this pivotal issue. However, there is not a single demand advanced by any of them that does not touch on the length of the social working day. The libertarian complaint on taxes, the anarchist complaint on force, and the Marxist complaint on profit all come down to this. Moreover, each variant’s hostility toward the other is wholly rooted in the struggle over working time. It seems logical to assume since all three are only divided by which function of the state they oppose they must all share an ignorance regarding the premise of this state.
That common ignorance can be stated as follows: Each cannot imagine that the premise of the state is the uncompensated labor time of society. Each, therefore, imagines it possible to abolish the present state of things without abolishing its premise — uncompensated labor. Each imagines it possible to ignore abolition of uncompensated labor time, or reduce it to a mere byproduct of the state’s own abolition. Engels made the clearest argument against this ignorance in his argument against Bakunin:
Bakunin has a peculiar theory of his own, a medley of Proudhonism and communism. The chief point concerning the former is that he does not regard capital, i.e. the class antagonism between capitalists and wage workers which has arisen through social development, but the state as the main evil to be abolished. While the great mass of the Social-Democratic workers hold our view that state power is nothing more than the organization which the ruling classes-landowners and capitalists-have provided for themselves in order to protect their social privileges, Bakunin maintains that it is the state which has created capital, that the capitalist has his capital only by the grace of the state. As, therefore, the state is the chief evil, it is above all the state which must be done away with and then capitalism will go to blazes of itself. We, on the contrary, say: Do away with capital, the concentration of all means of production in the hands of the few, and the state will fall of itself [fällt von selbst]. The difference is an essential one: Without a previous social revolution the abolition [Abschaffung] of the state is nonsense; the abolition of capital is precisely the social revolution and involves a change in the whole mode of production. Now then, inasmuch as to Bakunin the state is the main evil, nothing must be done which can keep the state-that is, any state, whether it be a republic, a monarchy or anything else-alive. Hence complete abstention from all politics. To commit a political act, especially to take part in an election, would be a betrayal of principal.
Uncompensated labor, Engels is arguing, is the essential precondition for the state. Marxists have used this quote as the dividing line between it and all other variants of communist consciousness. But, Marxists no more grasp it than either of the other two — hence, not a single Marxist sect raises demands on the working day. Even when they might, on occasion, weakly argue for it, it is nevertheless accompanied by a demand for money wages to remain unchanged. As if the question is not the uncompensated labor, but the worthless paper dollars exchanged for necessary labor.
In fact, paper money is a worthless token having no relation whatsoever to the real compensation the worker receives for her labor power — the only measure of the value of labor power is gold or another commodity money. Currency was debased precisely to make sure there would be no relation between the value of labor power and its price (wages). Keynes says this very thing in his “General Theory”, and I have pointed out the paragraph in which he makes his argument to Marxists time and again without penetrating their dull brains.
Though the struggle over money-wages between individuals and groups is often believed to determine the general level of real wages, it is, in fact, concerned with a different object. Since there is imperfect mobility of labour, and wages do not tend to an exact equality of net advantage in different occupations, any individual or group of individuals, who consent to a reduction of money-wages relatively to others, will suffer a relative reduction in real wages, which is a sufficient justification for them to resist it. On the other hand it would be impracticable to resist every reduction of real wages, due to a change in the purchasing-power of money which affects all workers alike; and in fact reductions of real wages arising in this way are not, as a rule, resisted unless they proceed to an extreme degree. Moreover, a resistance to reductions in money-wages applying to particular industries does not raise the same insuperable bar to an increase in aggregate employment which would result from a similar resistance to every reduction in real wages.
In other words, the struggle about money-wages primarily affects the distribution of the aggregate real wage between different labour-groups, and not its average amount per unit of employment, which depends, as we shall see, on a different set of forces. The effect of combination on the part of a group of workers is to protect their relative real wage. The general level of real wages depends on the other forces of the economic system.
Thus it is fortunate that the workers, though unconsciously, are instinctively more reasonable economists than the classical school, inasmuch as they resist reductions of money-wages, which are seldom or never of an all-round character, even though the existing real equivalent of these wages exceeds the marginal disutility of the existing employment; whereas they do not resist reductions of real wages, which are associated with increases in aggregate employment and leave relative money-wages unchanged, unless the reduction proceeds so far as to threaten a reduction of the real wage below the marginal disutility of the existing volume of employment. Every trade union will put up some resistance to a cut in money-wages, however small. But since no trade union would dream of striking on every occasion of a rise in the cost of living, they do not raise the obstacle to any increase in aggregate employment which is attributed to them by the classical school.
If Marxists can’t grasp the significance of these paragraphs for fascist state political-economy, what hope is there for those who imagine wages can be exchanged for labor power without wages slavery? The struggle against the state is nothing more than a struggle against the theft of uncompensated labor by the state in whatever form. If we cannot grasp this, we will continue to wander around as tiny little isolated sects, or sink further into lonely pessimism: The economic policy of the fascist state is nothing more than a device for compelling increasing quantities of uncompensated labor time from society.