Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street’

Anarchists, Libertarians and Marxists need to change the debate on jobs and debt (2)

October 13, 2012 2 comments

We have to change the terms of the debate on jobs and debt. We need to insist a job is nothing more than wage slavery and we don’t need Washington’s effort to create more of it by adding to this wage slavery even with more debt slavery. It is not like we have to argue existing jobs need to go away; why is Washington creating more of them, when existing hours can be reduced to solve the problem of unemployment rather than more debt?

2. Monetary Policy, or what happens when a hyperinflationary collapse of the dollar is NOT the worst possible outcome

The media is abuzz with speculation following the Federal reserves announcement of quantitative easing version 3.0. This version calls for the Federal Reserve to pour unlimited quantities of currency created out of nothing into the market, buying up worthless assets on a monthly basis to the tune of $40 billion per month. The result could be the printing of nearly a half trillion dollars in new, freshly produced, token money being forced into the economy every year until further notice.

The implications of this monetary insanity can be understood simply by reading the opinions of any number of economists and market watchers who are very delicately raising the spectre of a Zimbabwe style hyperinflation. Still subdued but growing talk of such an event has moved from the periphery of “financial advisers” and gold bugs into the mainstream argument of some pretty staid experienced players.

Take, for instance, a recent comment by Art Cashin, a veteran of the stock market who has probably seen every high risk moment in the market since well before Nixon closed the gold window in 1971, up to and including witnessing the market plunge 25% in a single day in 1987.  Cashin oversees the management of more than $600 billion in assets and is not given to losing his head over every minor fluctuation in the S&P 500. A market crash is not Cashins concern, however — he fears hyperinflation. Cashin notes Weimar Republic hyperinflation did not burst out all at once, but was preloaded by continuous money printing that only made its way into the market over time:

“It (the inflationary spiral) was in fact delayed for a couple of years.  But once it started, it could not be taken back.  So here in the United States and in the European Union, there are very few, if any, signs of inflation because people are so concerned (that they are hoarding money).

“[You] will have to keep an eye on the velocity of money.  Watch figures like, here in the United States, the M2 (figure), and see if it begins to grow through velocity, and get very cautious at that point.  There are some potentially eerie parallels (today vs the Weimar Germany era).  The United States trauma was unemployment and deflation (in the 30s), but in Germany in the 20s, it was money that ruined an entire society.”

Events are not yet to the point where Cashin is advising his clients to take their worthless fiat currency and sell it for gold, silver and other precious commodities, but he is suggesting there is such a heightened level of potential for a monetary catastrophe at present to warn people should begin to look for indicators of hyperinflation in the data:

“I think you are certainly at a ‘flashing yellow alert.’  You have in place a variety of things that could begin to react somewhat domino-like.  As I said, there are measures and items that the listeners (and readers) can look for themselves.  Look at, what is the growth in the money supply, M2?  It comes out every week.

If [the M2 measure of the money supply] begins to grow rapidly, then the money that the Fed has created will be seen as moving through the system.  That will create the high risk of accelerated inflation, and perhaps, God forbid, runaway inflation.”

Even if we discount Cashin’s argument as just another example of fringe hysteria, Zero Hedge recently explained, there are voices within the Federal Reserve’s own research department that echo Cashin’s argument:

Yes, it is ironic that the Fed is talking about “common sense”, we know. But the absolute punchline you will never hear admitted or discussed anywhere else, and the reason why the Fed can no longer even rely on its models is that…

Carlstrom et al. show that the Smets and Wouters model would predict an explosive inflation and output if the short-term interest rate were pegged at the ZLB (Zero Lower Bound) between eight and nine quarters. This is an unsettling finding given that the current horizon of forward guidance by the FOMC is of at least eight quarters.

In short: the Fed’s DSGE models fail when applied in real life, they are unable to lead to the desired outcome and can’t predict the outcome that does occur, and furthermore there is no way to test them except by enacting them in a way that consistently fails. But the kicker: the Fed’s own model predicts that if the Fed does what it is currently doing, the result would be “explosive inflation.”

You read that right: if Bernanke does what he not only intends to do but now has no choice but doing until the bitter end, the outcome is hyperinflation. Not our conclusion: that of Smets and Wouters, whoever they are.

And these are the people who are now in charge of everything.

Is there anything worse than a hyperinflation for capitalism?

The warnings by Cashin and the writers at Zero Hedge suggest Bernanke’s Federal Reserve is engaged in an extremely risky gamble on a policy that could lead to the dollar replacing Kleenex as the preferred method of catching sniffles during cold and flu season. I think it is safe to say the Fed would not be undertaking this gamble just to move unemployment a few points. A high risk gamble on this scale with the world’s reserve currency clearly hints what is at stake is likely much worse than a mere outburst of hyperinflation.

So what is worse than a hyperinflation of the dollar? What threat could there be to capitalism right now that risks reducing the dollar to a worthless piece of scrip with no purchasing power whatsoever? How about, a hyperdeflation, an inverse condition where all prices instead of going to infinity and beyond go to zero?

But there is a big problem with this argument: There is not a single recorded instance of hyperdeflation in history, we are told, and logically it cannot happen. Zero Hedge remarks on the question in a caustically titled post “The Monetary Endgame Score To Date: Hyperinflations: 56; Hyperdeflations: 0”:

We won’t waste our readers’ time with the details of all the 56 documented instances of hyperinflation in the modern, and not so modern, world. They can do so on their own by reading the attached CATO working paper by Hanke and Krus titled simply enough “World Hyperinflations.” Those who do read it will discover the details of how it happened to be that in post World War 2 Hungary the equivalent daily inflation rate of 207%, the highest ever recorded, led to a price doubling every 15 hours, certainly one upping such well-known instance of CTRL-P abandon as Zimbabwe (24.7 hours) and Weimar Germany (a tortoise-like 3.70 days). This and much more. What we will point is that at no time in recorded history did a monetary regime end in “hyperdeflation.” In fact there is not one hyperdeflationary episode of note. Although, we are quite certain, that virtually all of the 56 and counting hyperinflations in the world, were at one point borderline hyperdeflationary. All it took was central planner stupidity to get the table below, and a paper with the abovementioned title instead of “World Hyperdeflations.”

The Cato Institute’s paper presents a very powerful empirical argument against the case for deflation and hyperdeflation. Unfortunately it rests entirely on two fallacies that are hidden in its very title: First, hyperdeflation has nothing to do with the fate of any fiat currency, even the world reserve currency, the US dollar. A hyperdeflation is not the death of any particular currency nor even a series of currency collapses — it is the death of money itself.

The second fallacy in the Cato paper will take a bit longer to explain and once explained will show why it is so important to every anarchist, libertarian and Marxist.

Can there be such a thing as a hyperdeflation?

A hyperdeflation might possibly be defined as a situation where prices of commodities declined even as the supply of money increased. As the Cato Institute paper explains — there is no recorded instance of a hyper-deflation in the historical record. Of course, mild and even very severe deflations did occur several times up until the Great Depression; but history has many more examples of hyperinflations, as the Cato paper argues.

The problem with the Cato paper, however, is that its argument rests on the “quantity theory of money” fallacy — which according the Wikipedia states “that money supply has a direct, proportional relationship with the price level.” Which is to say, the Federal Reserve can force prices to increase — create inflation — if it increases the quantity of currency in circulation. In fact, this theory is wrong. The prices of commodities do not depend on the quantity of money in circulation, but on the quantity of socially necessary labor time required for their production. And here, at least theoretically, the case against hyper-deflation falls apart.

Here is the problem at the end of capitalism’s life: If the Marxist writers Moishe Postone and Robert Kurz are correct, the socially necessary labor time of commodities now have two distinct and contradictory measures: its labor time as a simple commodity and its labor time as a capitalistically produced commodity — yielding two quite different potential prices.

To put this in simpler terms, the price paid in a store for a typical commodity like an iPhone is mostly a reflection of the costs of economically wasted labor. The iPhone itself takes very little direct labor to produce, but, if its production is to be profitable, the accumulated costs of waste within the economy requires a massive mark up in the price you pay for it at the checkout counter.

What is this waste? Well, one source is the overhead created by the costly burden of government at present. Since the government doesn’t produce anything, its entire cost is borne by the rest of society. If, for instance, government accounts for about 50% of GDP, this means every product has a 100% markup just to pay for the operating expense of federal, state and local government. So about half the cost of your iPhone goes to cover things like drone attacks on Afghanistan civilians or corn subsidies to agribusiness. These cost don’t appear anywhere unless it comes directly from your wages in taxes, but even in this case the costs must be passed on in commodity circulation and will accumulate there in the costs of each commodity.

So every commodity essentially has two prices: the one that you pay at the checkout counter, which includes all the wasted economic activity in society, and the other, hidden, true price, which is the actual direct cost of producing to commodity. Surprisingly, this latter price is now only a negligible fraction of the total price of an iPhone, a pair of shoes, or even an automobile — the overwhelming bulk of the price of every product you buy consists of the hidden costs of economic waste within society that has accumulated over the past eighty years.

This is why, as I discussed in part one of this series, it now takes as much as seven dollars of debt, or even more, to create a single dollar of wages through fascist state economic policies designed to create jobs. Simply put, this internal discordance in the price of every commodity is a hyperdeflation weapon of mass destruction just waiting for a triggering event. What is making the Federal Reserve risk even the total collapse of the dollar on an insane gamble is the fact that this implosion can be triggered by the mildest hint of deflation. To prevent this event, the Federal Reserve must restart the failed system of debt accumulation that crashed in the financial meltdown of 2008.

Anarchists, libertarians and Marxists have a chance to put sand in the gears of the fascist state and bring it down along with the entire mode of production. All it requires is for us to change the debate over jobs and debt — opposing both Federal Reserve monetary and Washington fiscal policy aimed at expanding still further the system of wage slavery through policies designed to promote economic waste and debt.

But we can do this only if we are willing to take capital and the state head on by demanding an immediate reduction in hours of work until everyone who wants to work has a job, along with the elimination of all public and private debts, and abolition of all taxes.

Anarchists, Libertarians and Marxists need to change the debate on jobs and debt (1)

October 6, 2012 Leave a comment

We have to change the terms of the debate on jobs and debt. We need to insist a job is nothing more than wage slavery and we don’t need Washington’s effort to create more of it adding to this wage slavery even with more debt slavery. It is not like we have to argue existing jobs need to go away; why is Washington creating more of them, when existing hours can be reduced to solve the problem of unemployment rather than more debt?

1. Fiscal policy, or how to create one job on Main Street by borrowing five jobs from Wall Street

In 2011, a congressman made the argument that Obama’s stimulus program had produced jobs at the cost of $278,000 per job. Although the charge was nothing new, it made its rounds on the conservative GOP talking points circuit, and even ended up in the congressional record. This number, of course, was so outrageous by any measure of efficiency that it had to be analyzed by what we might call “clear thinking persons with no agenda”, i.e., the news media.

One “news source” in particular known for its ability to vet these things is, and it went after the congressman’s charge. PolitiFact established that the congressman, a Republican, was deliberately distorting facts against Obama’s stimulus program.

At $666 billion, the bill was estimated by the White house to have “saved or created” between 2.4 to 3.6 million jobs. What the congressman did, was employ the low end of the number of jobs “created or saved” and apply it to the total of the bill.

The Obama administration responded that this was unfair, since the money went to more than just creating jobs, it also invested in infrastructure, energy, education etc. Which is an odd response, since obviously the administration included those “investments” in its estimate of jobs “created or saved”. The Associated Press made the further argument that,

“Any cost-per-job figure pays not just for the worker, but for the material, supplies and that workers’ output — a portion of a road paved, patients treated in a health clinic, goods shipped from a factory floor, railroad tracks laid,”

So what AP is stating is that a job created by economic stimulus must account not just for the labor power directly expended, but also the constant capital used up in the course of this expenditure. But then AP performs an almost unnoticed sleight of hand and counts everything  twice. So we count the money spent to build a road in terms of wages and materials, then we count the road as a finished product; we count the wages and material employed to build a clinic, and then we count the clinic as an operating concern.

Once we remove the misleading double counting from our calculation in the argument in the AP version of this story, how this differed from what the congressman said, is unclear. Indeed his criticism was later refined by one conservative media outlet this way:

“He says he never said that $278,000 per job went to salaries, but ‘rather that each job has cost taxpayers $278,000.'”

Five dollars of debt to produce one dollar of wages

So what the worker actually receives of the $278,000 spent to create her job is one thing, and the cost of creating that job is another. Assuming the worker received an average hourly wage of around $19, she would have an annual wage of $38,760, minus taxes. But to receive this $38,760 minus taxes in wages, the taxpayer must pony up $278,000 minus the taxes paid by the worker.

Which is to say, it roughly takes about 7 dollars of spending to create 1 dollar worth of wages using fiscal stimulus. Moreover, this fiscal stimulus must be newly created money, through debt, and, therefore, created out of nothing. If we take the administrations preferred figure of $185,000 per job, this still amounts to 5 dollars of new debt to produce 1 dollar of wages.

Between the GOP and the Democrats, then, there is agreement that it takes somewhere between $5 and $7 of debt to create $1 of wages. For some reason, despite the general validity of the congressman’s claim, decided it was not true on a technicality:

“Contrary to Dewhurst’s statement, the cited cost-per-job figure was not aired by the Obama administration. At bottom, his statement leaves the misimpression that the money went solely for jobs rather than a range of projects and programs, including tax breaks. We rate his claim False.”

There is, of course, another way of looking at this from the point of view of Wall Street banksters. From their point of view, it only takes 1 dollar of wages to create 5 dollars of new debt. Since the banksters are only interested in the accumulation of debt, which sits on his book as an asset, this is a fine ratio.

If the fascist state wants to create one job, it has to borrow the equivalent of five jobs to create this one job. The accumulation of the public debt outruns the income of the members of society who must eventually pay off the debt with their income. For every dollar they get in increased income, their debt obligation increases by five dollars. They must work to pay off this debt, requiring a further extension of wage slavery beyond what is required just to satisfy their needs.

Since after the housing market meltdown citizens can no longer be relied upon to accumulate this debt on their own (they have all become subprime  borrowers) the state now takes on this obligation on their behalf, and raises the funds to service it by slashing their retirement and health benefits, reducing their access to public services like education, and inflating the prices of commodities by depreciating the currency.

This is how the scam works, folks!

You vote for Obama and the Democrats, and they mortgage your life and labor to banksters. They call this mortgaging of your life “progressive fiscal policy”, and sell it to you as a benefit.

However, since the congressman hails from the GOP, an avowed political opponent of the democrat president, he failed to add this additional fact: The argument does not change if, instead of democrat spending, we substitute GOP tax cuts, except that tax cuts are even more inefficient at “creating jobs” than fiscal spending. With GOP tax cuts, as the research suggest, the actual relation between the debt accumulated and the jobs created is aimless and dispersed and rather a bit more difficult to assess. Rather than aiming at some specific form of wage slavery as the democrats do, GOP tax cuts aim solely at subsidizing all wage slavery.

Tax cuts only have some definite targeted effect to the extent they increase the deficit and the flows of state expenditures into the coffers of banksters. While both spending and tax cuts result in a massive expansion of the public debt, in general, the less targeted the accumulation of the public debt, the more it directly favors only the banksters, who, in any case, underwrite this debt. The question is only one of degree, not result.

With democrat spending, the accumulation of debt takes a specific form — a road, a school, or an industry. It is targeted, and, therefore, can be more precisely applied, no matter that is still wasteful. What’s more, as Democrats and Republicans alike already know, the produced product can now be renamed the Obama Bridge-Tunnel Highway to Nowhere, or the Obama Elementary School, or the Obama Green Energy Research Park, or, as is always inevitable, no matter which party incurs the debt, the USS Obama.

If the outrageous cost of creating unnecessary jobs by fiscal policy is staggering, just wait until I next explain what knowledgeable insiders are saying about the cost of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy.

Letter to the Occupy Movement: The jobs number you never hear about says Washington’s fucked

October 5, 2012 1 comment

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.

What help for the 99ers? (Part three)

December 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Why is Washington so implacably hostile to a reduction of hours of work as the solution to unemployment? And, why has it abandoned the 99ers to their fate?

The answer to these questions is simple: Washington depends on the unpaid hours of labor wrung from the working population as much as capital itself. Washington is not a neutral party when it comes to hours of labor; it is, without exception, the largest single consumer of surplus labor time in society. The entirety of its revenues amount to the unpaid labor of society either directly, in the form of taxes, or indirectly, in the resources it controls through debt or money printing.

This fact is never admitted by progressives, nor even by vulgar proponents of Marx’s theory. The argument made by the Marxists against the current State amounts not to a recognition that the machinery of state shares with capital the total pot of surplus labor time, and, as a result, must be interested in the longest possible duration of unpaid labor, but only that this machinery is under the control of capital and should instead be controlled by the working class. The progressive critique of the State amounts to a demand that this unpaid labor time be devoted to the “improvement of society”; the typical vulgar proponent of Marx differs from this only in that he proposes this be under the direction of a working class party. Neither raises the demand for the abolition of all unnecessary labor, and with it, the state in its entirety.

When the Great Depression erupted Washington suddenly had access to billions of hours of unpaid social labor which it, along with the other great powers, immediately set about throwing into preparation for World War II. Government, already the largest single consumer of unpaid labor time in society, expanded monstrously – consuming perhaps as much as 40 percent of national output. But, in the aftermath of that horrible conflict, we really see its voracious hunger, and insatiable lust for surplus as the Truman administration conceived of and implemented a policy of a permanent war footing: The Cold War.

In his annual message to the Congress, delivered January 12, 1951, Truman opened with these words announcing the birth of the national security state:

We face enormously greater economic problems, as I transmit this fifth annual Economic Report, than at any time since the end of World War II. Although our economic strength is now greater than ever before, very large new burdens of long duration are now being imposed upon it.

The United States is pledged and determined, along with other free peoples, to cheek [sic] aggression and to advance freedom. Arrayed against the free world are large and menacing forces. The great manpower under the control of Soviet communism is being driven with fanatic zeal to build up military and industrial strength. We invite disaster if we underestimate the forces working against us.

The economic strength of the free peoples of the world is, however, superior to that of their enemies. If the free nations mobilize and direct their strength properly, they can support whatever military effort may be necessary to avert a general war or to win such a war if it comes. The resources are on our side. The only question is whether they will be used with speed and determination. The answer will depend upon unity of purpose and of action–unity among the free nations, unity here in the United States.

Unity is imperative on the economic front. On this front, under the American system, everybody is involved–every businessman, worker and farmer; every banker and scientist and housewife; every man and woman. We can win our way through to ultimate triumph if we all pull together. Decisive action, essential to our safety, should not be halted by controversy now.

Truman, in his report, explains the implications of a conflict with the Soviet Union of a very long duration:

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.

For those readers whose critical facilities have been dulled by countless hours of exposure to American Idol, what we have here are the words of a craven hustler — a two-bit con artist trying to sell you something you don’t need. Washington is in the business of selling security and its sales methodology is the practice of sowing fear of chaos, terror, and the unspeakable strange unknown. This sales strategy required the creation of an adversary to the “American system”, as well as its domestic avatar buried deep within the populace, to create a pervasive sense of vulnerability and distress among the population. It doesn’t matter that this adversary is Soviet communism or “Islamofascism”, nor that its domestic avatar appear in the form of a devout Muslim citizen or communist trade union activist; what matters is that the threat be, at the same time, pervasive and discrete, universal and particular, potentially life-threatening and merely strange.

This impeccably crafted direct appeal to the collective lizard brain of society, which paralyzes critical thought as our painfully slow brain tries to calculate the odds that the Sikh gentleman sitting in front of us on the bus might be strapped with explosives — renders critical thinking useless, and, therefore, a mere impediment to the apprehension of our empirical circumstances, reduces each of us to a suggestible sheeple, and set us up for acquiescence to the burden of providing Washington with ever greater hours of unpaid labor.

On the one hand, this “service” provided by Washington is very profitable to capital in its own right, since it requires enormous amounts of otherwise unprofitable output in the form of every imaginable thing from paperclips to the most advanced spy satellites, and launchers to put them in orbit. On the other hand, the demand for these products are the very kinds of superfluous expenditures that become increasingly necessary for the continuation of this social form of production.

Once the identity of interest between capital and the State in the longest possible extension of hours of labor is established, it is possible to understand not only Washington’s hostility to work time reduction as the means to end unemployment, but also its imposition of the regime of global competition on the American economy, its facilitation of companies moving industrial facilities and service jobs off-shore, and its hypocritical promotion of amnesty for undocumented immigrants: the capitalist state is a state that must operate according the laws of capital because it is founded entirely on the consumption of the surplus labor created by capital.

It also helps us explain the abandonment of the 99ers to their fate, the impending evisceration of the social safety net and the brutality of the austerity regime now being prepared by Washington. Far from merely falling under the control of Wall Street, Washington itself wants and needs this brutal assault on the living standards of Americans because all other methods of increasing the extraction of surplus value have failed.

What help for the 99ers? (Part two)

December 17, 2010 Leave a comment

In my rant yesterday, What help for the 99ers?, I made an argument why folks who support the 99ers should nevertheless oppose extension of unemployment compensation beyond 99 weeks. That argument made what might be considered an obscure connection between the unemployed and the large body of “public servants” who compose the state machinery of repression, totalitarian control and imperial expansion.

Let me add a few remarks to clarify how I see this connection.

To do this, we have to look at Karl Marx — not the infamous icon of Marxism, but the real guy, the writer and, to some extent, anthropologist of capitalist society — Often the two get conflated, so that, for instance, the utterances of any knucklehead running around with a copy of the Communist Manifesto sometimes is mistaken for the actual words written down on paper by the original person.

In Marx’s model of capitalist society, the unemployed worker is not an accidental occurrence and should not be treated apart from the labor force itself. The unemployed worker is a reserve force available to capital for those periods where new profitable opportunities or requirements for additional labor suddenly open up. The idled worker makes it possible for these new areas to be exploited by providing the additional labor capacity necessary to take advantage of them. This reserve also serves a function of depressing wages during times of depressions, when capital rationalizes its operation to resume profitable expansion by pressing wages below their cyclical average.

Thus, unlike economists, who treat unemployment as an aberration, a defect, or failure of the market, Marx believed a relative surplus population of workers was essential to the functioning of the capitalist system of production itself. The constant expansion and contraction of the labor reserve is consistent with his comprehensive model of capital in which, for example, the price of a good had to fluctuate according to the laws of supply and demand, and only reflected the value of the good through the moving average of these fluctuations. Capitalism is a social system of production carried on by millions of individuals acting privately — unless the system itself had flexibility to adjust to billions of differing and even contradictory decisions each day it would soon break apart.

In times of unusually vigorous expansion, and even for war, the great mass of this population of unemployed would be “called up” (both metaphorically and actually in the case of the military draft) to fill needed positions in industry or on the battlefield. Thus, the “liquidity” of the reserve source of labor power is not simply a matter of business concern, but also a matter of state. So, for example, it is not a surprise to see a statement by White House in the debate over the DREAM Act explaining why the act would be useful for its ongoing military operations:

Secretary of Defense Gates has written to DREAM Act sponsors citing the rich precedent of non-citizens serving in the U.S. military and stating that “the DREAM Act represents an opportunity to expand [the recruiting] pool, to the advantage of military recruiting and readiness.

The size of the reserve labor force is not determined by the means available to expand the scale of productive activity, but to expand activity that creates profit and for purposes of State. But, this purely cyclical movement in unemployment is not of the least concern to us, because it merely masks a longer term trend identified by Marx: the conversion of this reserve labor force from a relative oversupply of labor into an absolute oversupply of labor.

Over time the improvement in the productive capacity of labor — by augmentation with new types of machinery, new methods of organizing work, application of new scientific knowledge, and technology — is increased to such an extent that the relative proportion of workers who can be employed productively shrinks and a permanently unemployable reserve of labor emerges. (Today, this unemployable reserve consists not only of the 99ers, but also a massive hidden population of young people who have never entered the labor force and who, in addition,  compose the largest part of the swollen prison population.) This permanently unemployable reserve — a growing stratum of the labor force rendered entirely superfluous by the advance of industry — loses its opportunity to engage in productive labor and is reduced to serving only as a market for the output of the productively employed labor force.

Along with the emergence of a permanently displaced population of workers we find the emergence of the fascist state — a peculiar type of state organism combining both a permanent war footing with an extensive social safety network of state provided services. Although this state is typically identified with German Nazism and Italian Fascism it is not limited to them, but emerges in all the industrialized nations during the Great Depression, and is the essential feature of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The social basis of these fascistic entities is the general clamor among all classes in capitalist society for state action to preserve the conditions of existence of the society; namely, the purchase and sale of labor power. It is for this reason the fascist state appears on the scene as the embodiment of the national interest and asserts the populist idea of a national rebirth through a pan-class coalition.

The charge of this state, as imposed by general social demand on it, is to employ the unemployable, and hence, to provide the demand for the output of industry. From this point, political-economy becomes concerned with the problem of consumption of the massive and ever growing output of industry. The fact that the emergence of an absolute oversupply of labor implies the possibility of a drastic reduction in hours of labor for all in society, and, therefore, the awareness of the possibility that society might be entirely freed from labor and the system of domination inherent in the division of labor is, from this point, not only ignored, but actively suppressed. Thus, we see, from the end of World War II, that discussion of the idea improving productivity would lead to the abolition of labor disappears from economic textbooks — to be replaced by the phrase, “the lump of labor fallacy”.

The erasure from economic textbooks of the idea that a reduction and ultimate abolition of labor was the probable outcome of improving productivity foreshadowed last night’s news that the House of Representatives had abandoned the 99ers to their fate. As we showed in the case of the Obama administration, Washington is not merely unaware that unemployment can be wiped out by drastically reducing hours of work, it is hostile to the idea.

Why is Washington ignoring the 99ers, and why is it hostile to the great question of work time reduction? We will answer this in the next post.

What help for the 99ers?

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment

I am having a “marxist moment” today. The Obama tax deal, in addition to its other flaws, has completely excluded mention of those who first lost their jobs in 2008 and early 2009, when the worst of the layoffs hit the economy. Millions have already exhausted their benefits, and perhaps 4 million more will join them in the next few months.

So what is to be done for them?

Think about a situation where an unemployment check is fifty, seventy or even ninety percent of the income in your household. And, now, that income is approaching imminent termination. You have probably run through your savings, stopped paying credit card debt and the mortgage; you may even be parking the car away from home to avoid repossession. The crisis was not your fault. You never made sub-prime loans, nor was your own home purchase financed by the deliberate fraud of a liar’s loan. You weren’t the one who bundled those loans and sold them to Iceland and pension funds. You probably never missed a payment on your mortgage, auto or credit card loans until that day the company announced it was shutting down your entire division and began handing out severance checks.

At the risk of personalizing this discussion, I know people like this — one is a neighbor, another is a friend and former co-worker at a debt mill run by a large financial company. The debt manufacturer has a seat on the Federal Reserve Bank, and when its debt creating operation ran into the difficulty, it ran to Uncle Sam to bail it out — just another welfare queen in an Armani suit.

I DVR’d the CEO of Motorola talking on PBS Newshour yesterday, because I couldn’t believe what I had heard — I had to record it, so I could look at it today and confirm that, yes, he is that much a self-absorbed bastard. The CEO had just exited a gathering with President Obama of corporate bosses discussing what it would take for the nation’s largest companies to start hiring again. He opined that the administration was moving in the right direction and that President Obama had made a good deal with the Republicans in congress for across the board extension of President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts, which are heavily weighted toward the income of the top one percent of the population. The CEO praised the agreement for its effect in ending much of the uncertainty surrounding the administration’s tax policy.

Now, he said, we had to get serious about the deficit and deal with entitlements.

This morning I am trying really hard to avoid playing the class war card. Playing the class war card in these circumstances doesn’t require any creativity or thoughtful response. It is the political equivalent of yanking back your hand from a hot stove. Yes, corporate CEOs are ruthless narcissistic bastards, who have stripped the nation of its productive assets, moved them offshore, and left us with a hollowed out economy devoted to imperial adventures. And, the situation of the 99ers is pitiable. In conversation with my friend and with my neighbor, I have survivor’s guilt — and this, when I just might be the next dead hostage.

Yes, President Obama is a shameless whore who sold out his sacred pact with his supporters at the first opportunity!

Yes, the 99ers are at the point of extreme financial duress and tilting dangerously on the edge of physical existence!

Yes, our corporate masters are little more than Caligula’s court!

Yet, for all of this the move by the Congressional Black Caucus to introduce an amendment to President Obama’s and the GOP’s tax cut deal by extending unemployment benefits beyond 99 weeks must be opposed. That, this deal is an ugly filthy thing from the progressive perspective is obvious. But, no amount of sweetner will make horse urine taste like champagne. No more than will allowing gays to serve openly change the fact that they are now allowed to be openly gay while carrying out the military policy of an empire.

But, my opposition goes beyond simply “rejecting the good for the perfect” — a child-like refusal to accept compromise: The CBC’s proposal is itself to be condemned because it extends the dependence of the 99ers on state handouts and does not call on both those who are working and those who are unemployed to put an end to this dependence, and the larger dependence on selling themselves into slavery to survive. I think we should be sickened by the recent AFL-CIO internet commercial which portrays the 99ers as helpless, vulnerable victims of economic forces over which they have no control. A depression is not a natural disaster; we are not helpless victims of some financial force of nature beyond our control.

It is a matter of demonstrable fact that the Obama administration knows that all it takes to eliminate unemployment in this society forever is a large reduction in hours of work. His former economic adviser, Larry Summers, former president of Harvard University, and former Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration, stated this directly:

“I think we got the Recovery Act right,” Larry Summers, the president’s chief economic adviser, said in an interview. “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.”

Preferable for whom? For the state, of course, which now has ample excess resources it can put to work expanding the empire. Resources that, having no possible productive employment opportunity, can be employed for whatever unproductive purpose Washington demands. Beyond simply holding down the wages of those who work, the unemployed are the cannon fodder of empire, the TSA gropers, the bureaucrats ceaselessly promulgating new directives that other bureaucrats enforce. They are the drug enforcement agents, the cultivators of every new would-be “muslim terrorist”, the operators of a vast systematic destruction of young minds in the guise of public education. They are the operator of the largest prison population on the planet — a filthy, vile, unspeakable chamber of horrors that excels only in spreading disease and moral breakdown.

The CBC’s proposal not only does not address these concerns, it reinforces them and promises only to extend them indefinitely. A consistent anti-statist position has to call for the end of all unemployment compensation and its replacement by a large reduction in hours of labor.

The Golden Grimace (Part Twelve: Inflation, or the Illusion of Scarcity)

June 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Off and alone
Got me thinking bout these prices that work me to the bone
Trying to invent my self a clone
Park in the wrong place and get towed

Despite the fact that there is little or no need for work in our society, each of us actually knows that were we to stop working for any considerable length of time we would starve, bills would go unpaid, and our homes and cars would be repossessed.

Although today it takes only a tiny fraction of the effort needed to produce a house originally built in 1951, we still devote 15, 20 or even thirty years of our life to repay the debt incurred in its purchase. A home built by Threecrow’s parents in California in 1951 cost $9,500, yet that same home, now 60 years old, sells today for $432,000 – 45 times its 1950s price. For the most part we take no notice of this discrepancy; we write it off to inflation or even choose to ignore it altogether – in fact, in the case of homes, the very idea that the same home should increase in price each year, although it has actually decayed by some increment in useful life, has actually been a selling point!

The home, as a useful thing required some definite amount of labor by a group of people – carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc. We cannot measure the value created by this actual labor directly however, but only through the market price of the home. If, despite the decay of the home as a useful thing over a sixty year period, its market price should constantly increase, it is only because market prices for homes in general are increasing.

If the actual sale prices of all the homes around you tend to rise by ten percent a year, it is likely the notional price of your home will also be rising in market price by ten percent a year. Your city or town will register this rise by dutifully raising the tax on your property even though you have no intention of selling. They estimate the potential market price of your property by examining the actual sale prices of homes in your area generally.

Homes, as things of value are responsible for each other as things of value, which is to say, the price of a sixty year old home cannot be considered in isolation from the market prices of all the other homes with which it can be compared. If, therefore, the same home costs $9,500 in 1951, and $432,000 sixty years later the only explanation for this discrepancy must be found not in the home itself, but in the thing in which the price of the home is denominated, dollars.

We can do a simple thought experiment to demonstrate this: We can suppose that the original $9,500 sale price represents the monetary expression of the useful life of the home – the amount of time it can be used as a house until it must be replaced by another house. If we assume that the useful life of this home is 120 years, we also assume that each year the home declines in value by $79.17, or 120th of its purchased price. Sixty years later, the total value of the house has dropped to half the original, or $4,750. If the useful life of the home had declined by half over that sixty year period, but the price had remained the same – $9,500 – the purchasing power of its original price would have fallen by half. Before this $9,500 reflected a useful life of 120 years, now the same price only reflects the useful life of the 60 remaining years.

In the case of Threecrow’s childhood home, the price of the home has increased by 45 times over a sixty year period. If, therefore, the useful life of the house was 120 years initially, the purchasing power of the original dollar price has declined to such a point that only a price 45 times higher than the original price suffices to pay for its remaining sixty years. The only other conclusion possible is that we now expect the home to be useful for another 3500 years! We are clearly forced to conclude that a change has occurred in the purchasing power of the dollar which is driving up the prices of homes generally. The purchasing power of money has eroded over the same sixty year period but at a remarkably – even staggeringly – faster rate than the decay in the usefulness of a home built in 1951.

Economists have tracked the change in home prices for decades now, but have yet to offer any reasonable explanation for why dollar prices have escalated this way. The reason they offer no explanation is, of course, because they already know why this happens, but they, Washington, and the sociopath Children of Crassus wish to leave you in the dark about its cause.

You did it!

You drove the prices of homes to this mind-boggling level. The monetary system is designed in such a way that every time you or another working family purchases a home, you drive the prices of homes still higher. As we saw in the case of our rebellious redneck, the debt system results in the automatic escalation of the prices of everything.

Remember, when our redneck went into debt to purchase his Ford F250, he precipitated the immediate creation of new fiat money in the bank account of the dealer. This money entered the economy and existed side by side with his promise to repay recorded on the bank’s books. His debt existed in two places at the same time: as a promise, and as actual newly created money.

The case is exactly the same for our deadbeat African-American sub-prime borrower in Akron, Ohio. By signing the mortgage agreement with her bank, she triggered the immediate creation of the dollar price of the home in the account of the seller. The money did not exist before the bank created it in the seller’s account. The actual supply of money in the economy was, therefore, increased by both the creation of new money in the account of the Ford dealer, and also by the creation of new money in the account of the home seller.

This is how fiat dollars differ entirely from dollars backed by gold: had these transactions taken place before 1933, the bank would have been required to transfer a definite amount of gold from its account into the accounts of the Ford dealer and the seller of the home. The bank’s holding of gold would have declined exactly by the same amount of gold money as the dealer’s and the home seller’s holdings of gold increased. The promises to repay, made by our redneck and our deadbeat, would have appeared on the bank’s books only as a notional placeholder, it would have remained only a promise until it was repaid. In the meantime, the bank was out the gold it gave to the Ford dealer and the home seller.

The purely notional quality of the bank’s asset would have been enforced by the same rules which we mentioned above: just as the prices of homes cannot be considered in isolation from each other, so the purchasing power of an ounce of gold cannot be considered in isolation from that of all gold.

This is exactly the case for gold money. Since it only circulates to facilitate transactions, the price of the good is represented by so many ounces of gold. It does not matter whether this gold was plundered from Mesoamerica or mined in today’s democratic South Africa, each ounce of gold represents exactly the same value and exactly the same purchasing power as every other ounce of gold.

And, gold can’t be created in the accounts of the Ford dealer or the home seller by entering keystrokes on a computer. To actually deliver the purchasing power of an ounce of gold to the Ford dealer, it must be deducted from where it currently resides: in the account of the bank. If the bank should try to do what the slave-owners of the South did during the Civil War, and issue paper symbols of the gold far in excess of the real gold it owns, this would only result in the more or less rapid depreciation of this token.

Absent the actual production of more gold, the amount of gold available to circulate in the economy cannot increase. At the same time, the amount of gold in circulation cannot exceed the amount that is needed to facilitate the purchase and sale of goods taking place in the economy. When gold was the standard for the dollar, the dollar prices for all goods had to generally reflect the actual value contained in them. Gold held prices of goods in check, and the prices of goods held the amount of gold in circulation in check.

But, as we stated in another segment, the price of a good measured nothing more than the amount of time it took to produce the good in the form of gold. Gold was the physical material used by society to express the socially necessary labor time required for the production of goods. We had no way of knowing what this labor time is, and so relied on their constantly fluctuating money prices to approximate that value for us. We could then compare this money price to our own money wages.

By debasing dollars from gold, however, Washington and the children of Crassus were able to perform what Threecrow calls an ingenious sleight of hand – a cheap charlatan’s trick, a massive scam against working people – namely, by inflating the amount of worthless dollars every time you borrowed money, they could surreptitiously increase the prices of goods.

Since prices were no longer being held in check by gold, they could freely creep upward; driven only by the common business practices of offering goods for whatever price the market could bear. Since these new prices now demand an even greater supply of dollars in circulation to realize them, a ready supply of new dollars could now be made available through the credit system. And, as prices crept upward faster than your wages, your need for credit increased.

The expression of the value of a good in the physical material of so many ounces of gold only measured the labor time socially necessary for its production. The total amount of gold money spent on homes in any given year measured the amount of human effort annually required by society to satisfy their total need for new shelter, and, thus, for social labor performed in the specific fashion required to produce housing during that year. If too much labor was expended in the form of housing construction, therefore, the prices of houses sold that year would fall. If too little labor was expended in the year, the prices of housing would rise. Gold thus indirectly regulated labor after the fact, through the fluctuating movement of prices in the market for housing.

Once gold was severed from the dollar, this useful function of money was silenced. Money prices no longer approximated the value of goods, and no longer gave an indication of whether the mass of social labor time was greater than what was required by society or smaller than what was required by society. It only recorded what it was: so many dollars spent by society to purchase the goods.

To give an example of how this works: Although, as a result of an improvement in the productivity of the construction industry, our $9,500 California house required in 1952 only 98 percent of the labor time that was socially necessary in 1951, still the developer could claim with a straight face that land had now grown scarcer in the area, making all the remaining lots in his development that much dearer. He could, on this pretext, increase the price of new homes by 3 percent – from $9,500 to $9,785 – and thus pocket the entire five percent difference between the actual value of the new houses and their sale prices.

Immediately upon concluding the mortgage agreement, the bank would dutifully create this $9,785 in the account of the developer. The real estate agent, having concluded this sale between the buyer and the developer would immediately upwardly revise all the existing homes in the area by a proportion of the new home’s price minus the depreciation the older homes had experienced. Threecrow’s parents’ house would now have a notional market value of $9,785 minus $79.17 in depreciation, or a new market price of $9,705.83. (While the particulars of this example will inevitably vary from reality, the principle nevertheless applies.)

On the other hand, should Threecrow’s parents have decided that same year to sell their home, the real estate agent will dutifully put it on the market at its new market price of $9705.83, or $205.83 more than they paid for it, citing the appreciation in the market prices for homes in the area. Of course, the real estate agent has a hidden agenda in all of this – the dearer the price of the home, the greater her commission. And, since this new price is supported by the empirical evidence of homes sale prices in the area, the new buyers – who have looked diligently for an alternative – come to the conclusion that this price is justified by the housing market.

The bank, with whom they sign a mortgage agreement has also appraised the home and compared it to the selling prices of homes in the area. They have also established that the buyers indeed have a contract to deliver their labor power to an employer at a price which makes the service on the debt reasonable. The bank, like the real estate agent, is also not concerned that the buyers have purchased less house for more dollars. They are only concerned that they have increased the flow of debt service from the existing home with little or no efforts on their part. So they agree to finance the new mortgage at the asking price of $9,705.83, despite the fact that the house is a year older, and has that much less of a useful life. In addition to the original $9,500 they injected into the economy for the first purchase of the home, they now create $9,705.83 in the Threecrow’s parents’ account minus the outstanding debt on the original mortgage.

While the home has actually declined in value by $79.17 over the year, it actually sells for $205.83 more than originally paid for it. In value it has depreciated, but value does not determine its selling price. Dollars, which have no value at all, is the material in which the price of the home is denominated, as it is the denomination of the buyers’ wages.

And what of the buyers? They have no way of telling whether they have paid too much or too little for the home since they do not, and cannot know, the value of the home. They only know that when they enter the market for a home in 1952 for some unexplained reason a home costs more than it did in 1951. Each year then, for some unexplained reason, or so many reasons as to constitute an obstacle to any reasoning, home prices march upward irresistibly. Each new buyer of the home assumes greater debt for less house than the mortgagee before him, and must, therefore, earn more to service that debt than the previous.

Socially necessary labor time now takes the form of the labor time required to earn the requisite quantities of dollars to purchase the home. And, since this labor time is always tied to the dollar wages each worker receives in exchange for his labor power, either the quantity of those wage dollars must increase for a given amount of labor power, or the amount of labor powers offered must increase: two jobs replace one – either in the form of a single worker employed in two jobs, or by the addition of the earnings of a spouse.

The illusion of scarcity – the maintenance of a constant threat of starvation for working people amidst actual great material wealth – is the only basis on which actual superfluity of labor power could exist. The actual material wealth of society must appear in a form that is comprehensible to our containers of labor power: hunger, want, and deprivation – in a phrase, as the constant battle for mere physical survival, as a battle of the loaf.

Our rebel redneck or his comrade, the African-American deadbeat sub-prime mortgagee, must be brought to experience scarcity in the only form consistent with real material abundance: as a constant lack of sufficient fiat necessary to purchase this abundant means of life. Even as the actual value of homes shrink and the ease by which they can be built grows, the actual dollar prices of homes (and everything else) must constantly increase to create a phony scarcity – a purely monetary condition of insufficiency – and so goad the worker to remain on the job, constantly expand the amount of labor power he is prepared to sell, and to seek out the highest price for this labor power.

The Golden Grimace (Part Eleven: Debt)

June 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Matt Burch from Operation Repo

I owe my soul to the company store.

–Tennessee Ernie Ford

As we have seen, fiat results from the separation of money as measure of value from money as simple means of facilitating transactions. Once the separation has been achieved, a torrent of this fiat now floods the society constantly filling every sector of the economy, driving prices to absurd levels, and producing the relentless expansion of superfluous labor time.

We now have to consider the means by which this ever increasing volume of useless electronic digits expands.

Since, fiat money owes its existence to government decree – Washington decrees what is to serve as money and imposes this decree on society as law – its existence appears to be a historical accident – the act of the FDR administration. But, so soon as we peer into the nature of this fiat money, the hidden hand of the gang of sociopaths, who dominate society, and have always dominated society, and who have tightened their suffocating grip on money because it is the material form that their domination of society takes, the very idea that fiat is a mere offspring of some administration, rather than the necessary result of the domination of society by these sociopaths, dissolves.

Historically, fiat money comes onto the scene as government issued means for facilitating transactions, and with the accompanying decree that this means be accepted as money in place of gold money. To the libertarian, or the idiot proponents of Modern Monetary Theory, therefore, the introduction of fiat appears as what it really is: a political act of some definite historical figure; in this case, President Roosevelt. For this reason, they either damn it as an act of expropriation by Washington of the property of individuals, or praise it as the brilliant solution to a dire economic calamity.

In either case, they miss the point of the exercise: the introduction of fiat money is the culmination of a process wherein the great mass of society, working people, are reduced to conditions of absolute servitude to a handful of sociopaths. A condition of servitude so complete, so absolute, and so universal, dancing electrons alone sufficed to reflect it – the incessant reproduction of this slavery on an ever expanding basis alone is condition for its continuation.

The further examination of this process, unfortunately, requires us to descend into the ugly world of deadbeats, stiffs, and various schemers as we might encounter among African-American sub-prime defaulters, scum who deliberately run up credit card debt they have no hope of servicing, and assorted gutter trash one might find on any episode of Operation Repo.

We find these lowlifes either as they enter Best Buy, or  as they drive onto the local Ford dealership, or as they wander into the local real estate office, with that same stupid look on their face – a look that says to the entire world,

“I want something for nothing. The whole world of material wealth is out here, and I want some of it!”

Later, we see them, coming out of Best Buy with that brand new Xbox, or driving off the lot with that new Ford F250 (with the universal symbol of white trash – the Confederate flag – affixed to the rear window), or moving their Bob’s Discount Furniture sofa into that newly purchased raised ranch in some seedy suburb just outside of Akron, Ohio. We shake our heads in disgust: surely this is a disaster waiting to happen, and, no doubt, Washington will make good on their extravagant purchases by bailing out their too big to fail creditor institutions at our expense.

But, is our observation flawed? You decide as we replay in slow motion the entire sequence by which our rebel makes his purchase of the new Ford F250:

He enters the showroom with no cash and an intense longing for a pickup – he must, therefore, borrow the entire sum. This sum of money, the dealer is only too happy to advance if the wannabe rebel signs a contract pledging to return the money with interest – but only after the dealer verifies that our wannabe rebel has a job.

But, what does the rebel get for this pledge? If you said he received the money he needed to buy the truck, you are wrong. The rebel never sees the money. If you said, he receives ownership of the truck, you are wrong again. The bank retains ownership of the truck until the rebel has made good on his pledge.

All that happened here was an entry on the books of the bank ledger that the rebel owes so many dollars to the bank and must pay it with interest over five years. He can use the truck only so long as he fulfills this pledge.

This pledged-money or credit money, however, which is only imaginary money, until it has been replaced by actual payments on the auto loan, and which actually only exists in the form of a promise to pay, nevertheless, immediately appears in the bank account of the dealer and now exists in the dealer’s account as actual money.

Money has been created out of thin air. Our rebel, who only wanted to buy the Ford F250, has set off a chain of events that resulted in the appearance of the same money in two different places: as a pledge on the books of the bank, and as newly created money in the account of the dealer.

The dollars that are now in the account of the dealer did not exist before our rebel precipitated them into existence with his pledge to repay them.  They were created out of thin air by the bank on the basis of the rebel’s pledge to repay them. Just as our rebel lives a double existence – free white person of age, and, simultaneously, mere container for his decidedly colorless labor power – so his debt now has a double existence of its own as money the dealer can spend and as an asset carried on the bank’s books.

When the dealer later goes to the grocery store to make his purchases, the cashier has no way of telling that the money the dealer is using to purchase his groceries only exist as a pledge made by the rebel to replace them with debt service in the future, a pledge that simultaneously exists on the bank’s books as an asset.

If the rebel had paid cash, the money would have been transferred from his bank account to the bank account of the dealer and would exist in only one place at any time. Buying the truck on credit, however, the same transaction produces the bizarre situation that the same money exists in two places at the same time.

Moreover, in exchange for this pile of worthless fiat, which now exists in two places simultaneously, our rebel signed a financing contract – a pledge to pay out some portion of his wages to the bank for two, three or even five years. What is the basis for this pledge? The rebel has nothing with which to make good on this pledge but the sale of his labor power for those wages.

This capacity to work is, in reality, worthless to him and only exists for him as something to sell despite the fact that it is this capacity that made the F250 possible. If he did not contribute directly to the production of the truck, his labor nevertheless contributed to the total sum of social labor that, in one way or another, led to the truck’s production.

Thus, before our rebel redneck signed his name on the promise to deliver a portion of his wages to the bank for two, three or five years in return for a sum of worthless dancing electrons, he had to prove that he had an existing contract to deliver his labor power to his employer.

So what are the terms of this contract?

Anyone who has ever held a job knows that the employer does not pay up front for labor power. The hiring agreement explicitly states that the rebel will be paid the money price of his labor power only after it has already been consumed by his employer. This payment – his wage – is not to be delivered until he has already performed some amount of actual labor – a week, two weeks, etc.

This also is a form of credit money: the rebel was only hired on the assumption that he advanced to his employer the entire value of the only thing he has to sell, his labor power. In other words, he sells this labor power on the same condition as he buys the truck: on the basis of a pledge that the money price of the item will be transferred to the creditor within a given period of time.

In the case of the truck, he is the debtor to the bank; in the case of his labor power, he is the creditor financing his employer.

So, like the dealer, our rebel takes his pledged money to the grocery store and attempts to use it to purchase his groceries. The cashier looks at him like he is a lunatic. How could this fool imagine that he can fill his belly today with a contract promising he will be paid the value of his commodity in the future?

The terms of the two transactions are entirely different. His labor power has long since been consumed before the money promised to him has been paid, yet his belly remains empty until he is paid. The ownership of the truck, however, is transferred to him only after he makes good on his pledge to the bank, yet this pledge immediately circulates in the form of fiat money demand. On the basis of his pledge, the bank created the full amount of his pledge in the account of the dealer.

In this way, no matter how much his wages increase, a new flood of fiat is released into circulation by the debt he incurs, raising the cost of living still more rapidly.

The Golden Grimace (Part Ten: Superfluous work)

June 11, 2010 Leave a comment

A soup line during the Great Depression

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, Chief economic adviser to the Messiah

The oddest thing about superfluous work is how necessary it became to society. The more productive labor became, the more it became the over-riding concern of government policy that stupendous quantities of labor time be expended toward the most wasteful and unnecessary ends.

Think of it this way: By harnessing technology, one worker can produce enough to support two families, then five, ten, and eventually thirty or a hundred families. The use of technology is fantastically productive and fantastically profitable for businesses.

There is, in theory, no material limit to how much the productivity of labor can be extended. There is, however, a social limit: the application of technology to the labor process requires an ever larger market for the ever increasing volume of goods produced. Without a market, no good – no matter how cheaply it can be produced – can be sold. At the same time, if the volume of output per worker is growing, the number of people needed to fill jobs to produce the total output eventually starts to shrink.

On the one hand you have a whole lot of unsold goods, because no market exists for them. On the other hand, a whole lot of people without jobs, because labor has become so productive they are redundant.

Boom. Great Depression.

However, it isn’t massive unemployment, nor even the equally massive glut of unsold goods that leads to the debasement of money from gold. It is the fact that only by debasing money from gold, can this ungodly great – and socially dangerous – mass of unemployed labor powers be brought together with the mass of unsold goods – and, thereby, be converted into labor in its superfluous form. Moreover, in order to serve as means to bring this glut of labor power and unsold goods together, we must presuppose a massive hoard of gold money already withdrawn from circulation and sitting idle in the safe deposit boxes of a handful of private owners, and laying on the sunless floors of central banks.

This further condition, presupposes, in other words, that exchange (or, in common parlance, the market) itself has broken down, threatening social production and plunging society into a deep irreversible crisis. On the one hand, one labor power can supply the material requirements of ten or a hundred. On the other hand, ten or a hundred labor powers wasted in needless activity becomes the precondition of the productive employment of the one.

This fantastically bizarre circumstance is already implied in the hidden contradiction presented by money: that it is. at once, the means for measuring the value of commodities, and, the means for facilitating the exchange of these commodities. In the first instance, money finds its use as a measure of social wealth, the ability to command greater and greater masses of material wealth. In the second instance, money finds its use in normal daily transactions. Economic crises converted this contradiction between these two functions or instances of money into an absolute contradiction wherein money as measure of social wealth comes to rest in the safe deposit boxes of a handful of sociopaths and on the sunless floors of a central bank vault, while its role as means to facilitate transactions languishes.

Further, the absolute contradiction between money as measure of value (i.e., as a measure of social wealth) and money as means by which transactions are facilitated, presupposes that value or socially necessary labor time has surrendered to its own inherent internal contradiction: that it is at once the measure of work productively expended on the creation of a commodity, and, simultaneously, a measure of society’s need for that class of commodities.

While the former measure of socially necessary labor time – as the labor time productively expended on the creation of the commodity – is inextricably tied to the labor time required to produce some actual definite quantity of gold, the latter measure of socially necessary labor time (demand) now takes the form of fluctuations in the market price of gold. As socially necessary labor time in the first form diminishes, socially necessary labor time in the latter form increases.

But socially necessary labor time is nothing more than the expenditure of a definite quantity of human labor power, i.e., the expenditure of a definite quantity of human mental and physical capacity. We are, therefore, presented with the thoroughly bizarre and historically unprecedented circumstance that the incessant reduction of the value of labor power results in the incessant expansion of the value of this same labor power; that the expansion of society’s capacity to produce leads directly to the diminishing of its power to produce; and, that material wealth takes the form of abject poverty.

It is only on condition that general commodity production – i.e., the production and exchange of useful things – has taken the specific historical form of the buying, selling, production and consumption of labor power – i.e., the reduction of the sum of all commodities to their most abstract form: namely, the commoditization of the human capacity to work – that value is converted into its opposite: the universal indebtedness of the worker and the universal despoiling of nature.