In 2011, Leo Panitch wrote a piece, The Left’s Crisis, examining the Left’s response to the present crisis. He noted the Left’s response could be broken into two types: “irresponsible” and “fundamentally misleading”. In the irresponsible group, he puts those who called on Washington to let the banks fail, which, he asserted, gave no thought to the consequences of such an event. In the fundamentally misleading group he put those who called for tighter regulation of banks, which he asserted are already the most regulated in the world market.
The Left’s “lack of ambition” in the crisis, says Panitch, was indicated by the fact that there were far more calls for salary limits on top mamagers of Wall Street investment firms, than calls for turning the banks into public utilities. This was true, Panitch notes, despite the fact that turning banks into publicly owned utilities is a long-standing communist measure dating back to the Communist Manifesto. The fact that even some bourgeois writers were calling for just such a measure while the Left was not shows its lack of ambition and self-confidence.
Panitch states, fundamental change can only happen through a class struggle that would involve a massive transformation of the state itself. Getting reforms like converting banks into utilities is not going to happen by bringing a bunch of lawyers into a room. Even something as mundane as better regulation cannot be won without a mobilization of the working class:
“[We] ought to be trying to educate people on how capitalist finance really works, why it doesn’t for them and why what we need instead is a publicly owned banking system that is part of a system of democratic economic planning, in which what’s invested and where it’s invested and how it’s invested is democratically decided.”
The banking nationalization that is now occurring in the wake of the financial crisis by the government all over the world only involved socializing financial losses, while leaving the structures that lead to these losses in place:
“…this really represented “not the nationalisation of the banks, but the privatisation of the Treasury as a new kind of fund manager.”
Panitch argues the most important reason to nationalize the banks is to cripple finance capital and change the balance of forces. Additionally, according to Panitch, the socialist argument for nationalizing the banks would be to put credit to work for socially useful ends. Despite the disastrous collapse of the Soviet Union, socialists can’t avoid the need for planning, says Panitch, and credit is the core of any planned alteration of industry. Controlling credit provides for democratic control of investment. However, Panitch notes, people are not motivated by democratic control of investment, which, even if it does not fall prey to the errors of the Soviet Union, will not deliver benefits for decades.
“People need to be mobilized by immediate demands, as they were by the demands for trade union rights, a reduced workweek, a public educational system a welfare state, etc”
The solution is to combine a long term vision of democratic investment with immediate benefits that sustain it and make it possible. A case for this might be made for a massive public housing program, universal public pensions, free public transit, etc. These efforts would be aimed at decommodifying basic needs as far as this is possible within capitalist society. People like these things, but you very quickly face the problem of where the money for such programs will come from. This question can be addressed by bringing credit under the control of the state.
The Left on defense
The Left, Panitch argues, has been very defensive in its thinking:
“We need to try to see this moment of crisis from the perspective of what openings it could create. The limitations of a purely defensive response to the crisis lie in not taking advantage of the opportunity that the crisis creates. Despite the ‘Another World Is Possible’ rhetoric, the left has been more oriented to attempting to hold on to things than to taking things in a new direction.”
This is the defect of the view that says you can change things without taking power: we are left preventing the state from doing things, but do not advance our goals. You don’t engage on the terrain of the state or transform the structures of the state. While Panitch understand the current streak of anti-statism, he argues, “we need to go beyond protest, or we will be trapped forever in organizing the next demo.”
The state will transfer the crisis down to regional and local levels, and hopes thereby to impose limits on the response to the crisis. We must learn how to link up local struggles and turn them into a struggle for state power, otherwise we will be trapped by local limits.
I don’t think Panitch’s argument can just be dismissed. Unlike a lot of the shit I read, this guy appears to have decades of practical work and an encyclopedic knowledge of organizing history covering many countries. I was just floored by the breadth and depth of his argument here and here for instance. Moreover, there are two things about his argument that I find fascinating. First, he admits his ideas have gone nowhere practically — this admission is very fucking refreshing on the Left. Second, his argument that the Left has no ambition or self-confidence is frighteningly on fucking target.
On the basis of just those two statements alone, this guy deserves everyone’s attention, I think. He has given a lot of thought to the problem and invested a lot of effort figuring out a solution and clearly he cannot be accused of thinking on the margins. Moreover, I don’t think it is enough to say his conceptions of change are fundamentally flawed, since they are evidently no more flawed than any other ideas among, for instance, parties like SYRIZA, etc.
SYRIZA is rushing headlong into a crisis right now for ideas not much different than the ones for which Panitch argues. The only difference here is that the crisis for SYRIZA results from actually winning political power, not by a failure to win it. But failing to win political power and winning it makes all the difference in the world no matter how flawed our conceptions.
See, for instance, the Paris Commune, when the communards were faced with the necessity of breaking the state power, not reforming it. There is no hint of this necessity to be found in the Communist Manifesto — it was imposed on the Communards by the reality of implementing their program. All the measures indicated in the Communist Manifesto program had to take the back seat to the necessity, first of all, to break the state. When Panitch refers to this program — “Marx made – among his list of ten reforms – for the centralization of credit in the hands of the state” — he completely overlooks that these demands were superseded by breaking the state, not simply “transforming the structures of the state”.
Is breaking the state as valid as public banking?
Was this lesson from the Commune valid? By the time of the Great War there were clearly two opinions on this. Some Marxists held the state had to be broken, others argued the existing state did not have to be broken. The Bolsheviks, who argued for the former, upon taking power changed their view and actually proposed to employ the existing state to build socialism. By the end of World War II, this debate over the state was further distorted into whether there had to be a violent revolution or not. So the question hinged, it seems, on whether this state would be “seized” or simply won by “peaceful means” in an election.
In Panitch’s opinion, the distinction is now between “change the world without taking power” and “engaging on the terrain of the state”. But, there is a fallacy in Panitch’s argument regarding the need to engage on the terrain of the state: simply stated society at large is the terrain of the state. By supposedly engaging on the terrain of the state, Panitch clearly means engaging within the machinery of state itself, as distinct from society. Which is to say, Panitch is suggesting we attempt to transform society by means of the state machinery. This is pretty much the gist of what he means when he says, “a system of democratic economic planning, in which what’s invested and where it’s invested and how it’s invested is democratically decided.”
However, if these decisions are not already being democratically decided, they must be despotically imposed by the state. The leads us to another problem with Panitch’s argument: if the decisions of the democratic state are being despotically imposed on society despite democracy, it seems to me this would be easier to explain this to people than it would to explain, “how capitalist finance really works, why it doesn’t for them and why what we need instead is a publicly owned banking system that is part of a system of democratic economic planning.” It should, in other words, be easier to explain why democracy itself is a farce and must be replaced by an association of producers. This is particularly true since it is widely felt that Washington is just not at all responsive to the control of voters.
It seems Panitch is ready to accept the then innovative ideas of mid-19th century communists when it comes to such standard present day bourgeois practices as a progressive income tax, credit socialization, land use regulation, free education, public roads and infrastructure, etc., but he is not willing to accept the addition of the lesson, hard won at the cost of the lives of many communards, that the state must be broken to this list. I am not sure why this is, and can find no reason for this except that it is the one item not accepted by the fascists. Almost every measure in the Communist Manifesto is standard practice by the fascist states in every country except the replacement of the state itself by association.
A further objection can be made to Panitch’s argument: As he states,
“But you do have to be a Marxist to understand that [reform] is not going to happen by bringing some lawyers into a room and signing a few documents. … fundamental change can only really happen through a massive class struggle, which would involve a massive transformation of the state itself.”
If even a simple reform recommended by bourgeois writers, and proposed by communists 150 years ago, like making banks public utilities, requires a massive class struggle involving a massive transformation of the state, why not simply aim at the outset to replace the state by association — thus ending the false distinction between changing the world without taking power and engaging on the terrain of the state. The only argument for not aiming at the outset to replace the state by association is that simple reforms like public banking is easier than wholesale reorganization of society. Panitch’s argument is that this is not true: even such a modest and self-evident reform of banks, recommended by a bourgeois writer, requires a massive class struggle.
Changing the world without taking power over others
I think Panitch definitely falls for a phony and entirely meaningless distinction between “changing the world without taking power” and “engaging on the terrain of the state”, i.e., within society itself. Both can be accomplished by changing the world without taking power over others, i.e., by replacing the state by association. If, as Panitch argues, even simple reforms require massive class struggle, the working class cannnot afford to dispense with its own organization. The aim of mobilization cannot be to turn this power over to the state, as was done in Egypt, but to become the new conditions of society.
In Tahrir Square all were equal and no one was able to dictate the views of others, this short-lived association, however, soon gave way to talk of constitutions and ministries. The association that had brought down the Mubarak regime was deemed unfit to manage its own affairs. Although for three decades no political party was able to do what the association did in 18 days, “commonsense” ruled this association too inept to manage society. In other words, “commonsense” decided that the working class should only serve as cannon fodder. The working class should be “mobilized” whenever some faction or another wishes to marginally change the existing state with some piecemeal reform and then rapidly demobilized once success has been secured.
I am not suggesting this is what Panitch is trying to do, but he has to see events like Egypt in this light as well as the danger hidden beneath SYRIZA’s growing popularity and likely victory. If upon winning the coming election, SYRIZA does not immediately begin replacing the state with association it must fail.
T.I.N.A.: There is no alternative to the fascist state?
Panitch’s essay led me to contemplate what he called the lack of ambition and self-confidence of the Left. People have completely accepted T.I.N.A. The Left is now incapable of articulating an alternative that does not go through the existing state. The healthy section of the Left now no longer even tries — it has given up entirely — while the unhealthy section is mired in opportunism.
I think this is a good thing.
Fascism has completely broken the Left down: appropriated its symbols and converted its highest ideals into election Newspeak. Fascism has made it impossible for the Left to formulate its argument in a political form by immediately expropriating every instance.
Just look how Tahrir Square turned into the FSA — T.I.N.A writ large.
Every time the Left looks for a political exit from this crisis it must fall into the lap of fascism — T.I.N.A. Fascism thrives on politics, since it is an entirely political mode of production — the production of surplus value in the form of the state. If the Left are having a problem articulating their aims in a political form is it not just possible “political aims” are the problem? It is not a problem of finding the correct political aim, but of realizing politics itself is a dead end.
For you mainstream Marxists out there, that means there is no longer any possibility of a so-called “minimum program” for the working class. Another way to put it: the first act of the Commune was to break the state. This is no longer possible without breaking capitalism entirely. When the state is the capitalist, the first cannot be separated from the second. Breaking the state was always the “minimum program” of communism — you just forgot this. Everything else proposed to be undertaken in the Communist Manifesto — which is still the only common program adopted by all communists alike, irrespective of whether they call themselves Marxist or anarchist — depended on immediately breaking the state. It is the development of the capitalist mode of production itself that has altered this and made it impossible to do one without the other. So the task hasn’t changed in 150 years, the implications of breaking the state has: it must immediately lead to breaking capitalism itself.
So let’s assume there is a need for a so-called “minimum program” as proposed by mainstream Marxism. This means a set of measures communists propose must be accomplished by the working class upon assuming power. This is based on some assessment of the current situation and the difficulties the class will face once in power. This fucking minimum program itself rests on the assumption the working class will replace the state with its association. It is not as if replacing the state is a long term goal; it is the precondition of an assumption of power, the form this assumption takes. Before embarking on any sweeping changes to society, in other words, as Marx argued against Bakunin, “the whole thing begins with the self-government of the commune.”
I mean, how much clearer could Marx have been on this, Marxists? Did he mumble? So before you can even articulate a minimum program, you have to explain how the existing state must be replaced by association. In other words, you can’t articulate political aims but aims that are entirely anti-political. You begin with the notion that, in any case, the existing state will be leveled in its entirety and replaced by association — no fucking minimum wage, no fucking social security, no fucking EPA, no fucking defense department — only association. If you can’t get on-board with this — which is ONLY the precondition for a minimum program — stop calling yourself a Marxist, please. Call yourself a progressive, or better yet, a fucking fascist, which you are.
Do we need a state to care for the elderly?
Yes, the environment, the disabled, the elderly, the unemployed etc. have to be cared for — but it is the association that does this! The task is not left to a bunch of elite managers who move back and forth from Wall Street to federal agencies. The association of producers decides EVERYTHING. This is already a more audacious program than conceived in any party program produced by a Marxist party today. And I think I can say this without reservation: Marxist programs do not even come up to this minimum requirement for a minimum program.
The point is not how much of the social product is devoted to education of children, but who decides this. Is this decided by bureaucrats in the Department of Education or by an association of producers?
T.I.N.A. is not about where social resources go or how they are employed, it is about where these decisions are being made. Once the association of producers has taken command of the social resources, these resources no longer exist as forms of capital. They are transformed into mere use value — objects of utility for the mass of society and subordinated to their needs alone. Marxists and the Left in general focus on how the social product will be divided, when the real question is who is making this decision.
Folks, the capitalist class is trapped. It is utterly dependent on the state and has no options in this regard. It cannot go back to an earlier mode of accumulation, which is why as a class it is desperate and violent in the extreme. There is not one country today where the capitalist class can survive the replacement of the state by an association of producers. And, as Egypt proved, there is not one country today where the working class can “take power” without replacing the state with its association.
Marxists and the Left in general keep trying to avoid this brutal fact, by articulating a set of demands aimed at less than association. It will not work: as Tahrir Square shows, anything less than association will be co-opted by the fascist state.
Based on what I have described of Bernanke’s policy failure so far, is it possible to predict anything about the future results of an open ended purchase of financial assets under QE3? I think so, and I share why in this last part of this series.
I stopped my examination of Bernanke’s approach to this crisis and the problem of deflation after looking at his 1991 paper and his speech in 2002. I now want to return to that series, examining two of his speeches this to discuss the problems confronting bourgeois monetary policy in the crisis that began in 2007-8.
The world market had been shaken by a series of financial crises, and the economy of Japan had fallen into a persistent deflationary state, When Ben Bernanke gave his 2002 speech before the National Economists Club, “Deflation: Making Sure “It” Doesn’t Happen Here”. Bernanke was going to explain to his audience filled with some of the most important economists in the nation why, despite the empirical data to the contrary, the US was not going to end up like Japan.
So I am spending a week or so trying to understand Ben Bernanke’s approach to this crisis based on three sources from his works.
In this part, the source is an essay published in 1991: “The Gold Standard, Deflation, and Financial Crisis in the Great Depression: An International Comparison”. In this 1991 paper, Bernanke tries to explain the causes of the Great Depression employing the “quantity theory of money” fallacy. So we get a chance to see this argument in an historical perspective and compare it with a real time application of Marx’s argument on the causes of capitalist crisis as understood by Henryk Grossman in his work, The Law of Accumulation and Breakdown.
In the second part, the source is Bernanke’s 2002 speech before the National Economists Club: “Deflation: Making Sure “It” Doesn’t Happen Here”. In this 2002 speech, Bernanke is directly addressing the real time threat of deflation produced by the 2001 onset of the present depression. So we get to compare it with the argument made by Robert Kurz in his 1995 essay, “The Apotheosis of Money”.
In part three, the source will be Bernanke’s recent speech before the International Monetary Fund meeting in Tokyo, Japan earlier this month, “U.S. Monetary Policy and International Implications”, in which Bernanke looks back on several years of managing global capitalism through the period beginning with the financial crisis, and tries to explain his results.
To provide historical context for my examination, I am assuming Bernanke’s discussion generally coincides with the period beginning with capitalist breakdown in the 1930s until its final collapse (hopefully) in the not too distant future. We are, therefore, looking at the period of capitalism decline and collapse through the ideas of an academic. Which is to say we get the chance to see how deflation appears in the eyes of someone who sees capitalist relations of production, “in a purely economic way — i.e., from the bourgeois point of view, within the limitations of capitalist understanding, from the standpoint of capitalist production itself…”
This perspective is necessary, because the analysis Bernanke brings to this discussion exhibits all the signs of fundamental misapprehension of the way capitalism works — a quite astonishing conclusion given that he is tasked presently with managing the monetary policy of a global empire.
!Quelle Surprise! Like Greece and Spain before it, the UK finds austerity can only result in more austerity:
U.K. Tories to Press Ahead With $16 Billion of Welfare Cuts
The Conservative Party will press ahead with plans to cut 10 billion pounds ($16 billion) from the welfare budget and reduce spending by most other departments as it extends Britain’s austerity program into a seventh year.
The cuts to the benefits budget will go ahead as long as they meet safeguards sought by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who has clashed with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne on the issue since the party came to office in 2010. Duncan Smith and Osborne published a letter today saying the differences had been resolved.
“We are both satisfied that this is possible and we will work together to find savings of this scale,” the ministers said, according to excerpts released by Osborne’s office.
Osborne will address activists at the Conservatives’ annual conference in Birmingham, central England, later today, seeking to assure voters that his party will spread the pain of austerity across society. He’ll accuse the opposition Labour Party of focusing too much of that effort on the rich.
“There’s unfairness if people listening to this show are about to go out to work and they look across the street at their next door neighbour with blinds pulled down, living off a life on benefits,” Osborne said in an interview with BBC Radio 5 today. “Is it fair that a young person straight from school who has never worked can find themselves getting housing benefit to live in a flat when people who are working, perhaps listening to this program, are still living with their parents” because they can’t afford to move out, he asked.
Osborne is seeking to extend spending reductions across government departments as a 2010 effort to rid Britain of its budget deficit by 2015 is pushed back a further two years. Britain spends more than 200 billion pounds a year on welfare, accounting for 30 percent of total government spending. The Treasury said in March that welfare cuts of 10 billion pounds are needed by the fiscal year that runs through March 2017 on top of the 18 billion pounds of savings already announced.
See this is the problem with austerity — the more you cut, the more you must cut. Folks, if the fascist state is subsidizing capitalism by accumulating debt, cutting fascist state deficits only weakens capitalism.Since the fascist state is propping up profits through its accumulation of debt, if this debt accumulation is reduced, it sets off a vicious cycle which can only end in each round of cuts making necessary the next round of cuts.
Here is an interesting chart from Zero Hedge: In data going back to 1980, employment for younger workers aged 20-24 has never increased — that is, it has never increased until this year:
I know what you are thinking: the data provided by Washington is a fraud. I am going to show why, even if we take that chart on its face value as genuine, Washington is completely fucked. I am going to subject the entire category “employment” to an analysis using Marx’s labor theory of value. By “employment”. of course, I mean wage slavery; which means, although it is commonly treated as a good, it is actually an evil. But, I intend to treat this “employment” on its own terms, as it is commonly held a some sort of social good.
Let’s begin with this morning’s non-farm payroll report — 114,000 net hires in the economy and an unemployment rate of 7.8%. Both of these numbers are, of course, cooked beyond all credibility, but this is not the point. It doesn’t get us any closer to the actual situation to state (as the GOP will, no doubt) that Washington cooks the unemployment numbers. Dems cook the books when they control Washington, the GOP cooks them when they are in control.
Washington has always cooked the numbers — now the numbers are burnt beyond all recognition.
(First a note about this morning’s serving of cooked data: According Mish Shedlock, the minimum net new hires needed just to keep the unemployment rate flat is 125,000 per month. Last month there were 114,000 net new hires, however the unemployment rate declined from 8.1% to 7.8%. So, before you Obama voters celebrate, you should be aware than the economy did not even provide enough new hires to offset people coming into the labor force looking for jobs.)
Compulsory employment growth and inflation
It is the labor force participation rate that is most revealing in the numbers. The labor force participation rate (the blue line in the chart provided by Calculated Risk below) peaked in 2000-2001 and has been on a slow decline since that recession. From a high of just over 67%, that rate has now fallen to about 64% in this report. This reverses a trend of increasing participation in the labor force — folks actively seeking work — that goes back at least to 1962, according to the data available to me. Since 1962, in other words, as a general rule each year has seen more people trying to get a job than the year before. This trend higher reverses in the 2001 recession, and as a general rule, each year fewer people are participating in the labor force.
Why is this reversal in labor force participation important to analysis? Well, let’s look at this statement by President Truman in 1950 speaking of the military buildup that commenced with the start of the Cold War:
“In terms of manpower, our present defense targets will require an increase of nearly one million men and women in the armed forces within a few months, and probably not less than four million more in defense production by the end of the year. This means that an additional 8 percent of our labor force, and possibly much more, will be required by direct defense needs by the end of the year.
These manpower needs will call both for increasing our labor force by reducing unemployment and drawing in women and older workers, and for lengthening hours of work in essential industries. These manpower requirements can be met. There will be manpower shortages, but they can be solved.”
Following World War II, Washington set it as a priority that the labor force should steadily increase each year, in order to siphon off a portion of this growth for its military expansion. This goal was secretly given legal form as National Security Council Report 68. The goal of “full employment” was made the primary labor policy of Washington in 1946 and renewed in 1978.
“Full employment” in this case should be understood as full employment of labor power resources. In other words, it was the policy of the United States to seek full employment of its labor power resources for its strategic national ends. This “full employment” policy was sold to Americans as Washington’s commitment to providing a job to everyone who needed a job.
Which is fine and dandy, except at the same time, Washington was deliberately debasing the currency, driving up prices, and forcing more folks (particularly women) into the labor force to compensate for falling consumption, and moreover, forcing people to work well past their retirement. So what at first appears to be a benign policy, even an commendable agreement between Washington and its citizens that it would do everything in its power to create jobs, turns out to be a policy of forcing every person under its domination to look for work.
Children barely off the breast were abandoned to daycare warehouses, so mothers could find work just to pay for daycare; even substitute formulas for the breast were devised, so children could grow up attached to a rubber substitute for their mothers; essential functions within the home like child-rearing were thus commodified. And this, in turn, led to its own set of social ills, as women were assaulted by their bosses, discriminated against in their careers and under-paid — as the nation was convulsed with real or imagined terror of child abuse in day care centers. A generation of children were now referred to as “latch-key kids”, and teenage pregnancies proliferated. The elderly went back into the work force and became greeters at Wal-Mart, as people delayed or altogether gave up on the idea of retirement, unable to amass sufficient savings to stop working. Taking care of the elderly itself became a commodity sold as nursing home care.
Still, labor force participation increased despite these horrors.
Compulsory employment growth and debt: the hidden relationship
Hand in hand with this goes the ever increasing accumulation of consumer debt that working folk used to compensate for stagnant wages, despite the fact that each family was working more hours than their parents had. And all of these ills, which list could be extended almost indefinitely, appeared to have no cause other than the individuals themselves. If someone ended up working in a Wal-Mart at 70, it was because they had not saved enough; if a woman abandoned her child to day care, it was because she or her husband had not spent enough time in college; if teenagers were now getting pregnant at 13, it was because the morals of society were collapsing.
No one looked at Washington and said, “You fuckers are responsible for this!” And, if by chance, someone did say this, it was only in the form: “You democrat fuckers have tied up the economy with your regulations”; or, “You Republican fuckers have crippled Washington to the point that government can’t provide enough stimulus to create full employment.”
No matter what the policy advocated — tax cuts or spending increases — there was always someone to assure us it would create jobs and pay for itself with “increased economic growth”. Through most of the period from at least 1980 until now the growth of employment has always been proportional to the increase in debt. From 1980 until at least 2006, the savings rate of American declined until it went negative entirely in 2004-2005. It is particularly interesting that the saving rate actually touched near zero just as the labor force participation rate reached its peak.
The problem with the latest employment figures, however, is not to be found in the effects of a rising participation rate on working families, either in the form of social ills or the accumulation of debt. It is that, no matter these ills and no matter the accumulation of debt, total hours of labor must increase — the fate of capitalism depends on this growth.
But, it is not increasing.
Why compulsory growth of employment is necessary for Washington
Capitalism is a mode of production where the employment of labor power must constantly increase, no matter what the consequences. This mean, the duration of labor must constantly rise, a duration that is a function of the number of workers times their hours of work. Washington and the political parties always directs our attention to the unemployment rate, which figures are usually cooked, but, what really matters for Washington, is not the unemployment rate, but the duration of the social working day. At least this seems to be what is relevant, from the standpoint of Marx’s theory.
According to the date I have access to, social labor day has fallen only four times in the last 36 years: briefly in 1991 and again in 2001, and in a sustained way from 2007 to 2009. In other words, since this depression began in 2001, the total hours of work has fallen 3 years between 2001 and 2009. The response to this fall the first time, was the Bush tax cuts, Paul Krugman calling for a housing bubble to replace the NASDAQ bubble Bernanke’s speech on deflation, and Alan Greenspan being asked to retire from the Fed.
The second and third times the total social labor day shrank, coincided with the collapse of the financial system and Fed monetary policy.
This argues that this measure of economic activity is more significant than the hype over non-farm payroll numbers would have you believe. Such an argument might be said to be based entirely on coincidence, were it not itself based on the arguments of Postone and Kurz. They suggested the social labor day must constantly expand if existing relations of production are to be maintained.
What is more, each writer comes to this conclusion from different premises, i.e., different and contradictory notions of value. Postone’s argument suggests that the total labor time of society must expand despite the contraction of socially necessary labor time in the forms of value and surplus value; while Kurz suggests the increasingly fictional quality of credit, of fictional claims to future profits, requires the constant expansion of total labor time of society. In either case, Postone in 1993, and Kurz in 1995, using different notions of value, argue the total labor time of society must increase. And when, in fact, this total labor time actually did not increase, first a depression was triggered, then a financial collapse.
But, I hear you: ‘I am still not convinced by the evidence — it could, after all, be a really good scientific wild-assed guess on the part of those writers.’
Good point! Evidence suggests each writer, Postone and Kurx, was familiar with the writings of the other — so this could be just another instance of group-think. Instead of just going from Postone and Kurz to the empirical data, we need to go from Postone and Kurz back to Marx’s argument to establish a logical chain of reasoning, and figure out if, in fact, these guys were just making a wild guess.
In Marx’s argument, capitalism is not just a system of commodity production; it is a system of surplus commodity production, of the production of surplus in the form of commodities, of the production of surplus values. As a system of commodity production that aims always at the production of surplus value, capitalism relentlessly aims toward self-expansion beyond its given limits — as Marx put it, it employs existing value to create surplus value. Both Postone and Kurz employ this argument to uncover the absolute necessity of capitalism, at a certain stage in its development, to produce a sector consisting entirely of superfluous labor. In fact, Marx himself hints at just this result in volume 3, when he writes:
“If, as shown, a falling rate of profit is bound up with an increase in the mass of profit, a larger portion of the annual product of labour is appropriated by the capitalist under the category of capital (as a replacement for consumed capital) and a relatively smaller portion under the category of profit. Hence the fantastic idea of priest Chalmers, that the less of the annual product is expended by capitalists as capital, the greater the profits they pocket. In which case the state church comes to their assistance, to care for the consumption of the greater part of the surplus-product, rather than having it used as capital.”
Marx is clearly suggesting the unproductive consumption of the total social product becomes increasingly necessary when he closes with the wry comment:
“The preacher confounds cause with effect.”
Still later, Marx decries the result of this process:
“In the first place, too large a portion of the produced population is not really capable of working, and is through force of circumstances made dependent on exploiting the labour of others, or on labour which can pass under this name only under a miserable mode of production.”
Which is to say, a growing mass of workers makes its living by subsisting on the surplus value of the productively employed population. So, for me at least, there is a clear line beginning with Marx, through the argument of Postone and Kurz, that is expressed graphically below in the empirical data on the social labor day:
This decline is far more significant than the manipulated data foisted on the population of voters this morning. It suggests there is a real material dysfunction in fascist state economic policy that cannot be altered with a set of misleading stats. Beyond the convenient and willful ignoring of the shrinking labor participation rate, and the mass of unemployed no longer counted, the data suggests a situation that cannot be repaired by confidence tricks designed to keep the two parties in power.
Almost a fifth of the population is now permanently locked out of the labor force — the highest on record — according to Zero Hedge calculations:
If hours of labor do not expand at a sufficient rate to sustain existing relations of production, the entire Ponzi scheme must collapse. This process has probably already begun, which explains the insanely desperate actions of the Federal Reserve over the past month.