Thursday, July 22, 2021

Why Did Trump Initially Support The Saudi-UAE Effort To Overthrow Qatar's Government?

 One of the more curious things in 2017 in the first year of the Trump presidency was how when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) placed a boycott on Qatar and more directly attempted to overthrow the government of Qatar, President Trump openly supported this effort initiallly.  He would later be pulled back from this position his first Secretary of Defense and that of State also after they noted that Qatar hosts the largest US air base in the Middle East, al-Udeid, from which many operations are carried out, including much of the drone warfare by the US. Less well publicized is that these secretaries also attempted later to get Trump to host a peace-making summit between the leaders of those three nations and some others in an effort to bring an end to the boycott campaign against Qatar, but for some reason Trump lacked enthusiasm for this idea and it never happened.

Juan Cole now reports that there was a common thread to these and related somewhat surprising developments: the behind the scenes influence with Trump of his longtime associate, Tom Barrack, a California real estate billionaire who also served as chair of Trump's troubled inaugural committee.  Barrack was better known for this latter activity, but Cole makes it clear that Arabic-speaking Barrack, whose family came from Lebanon originally, was really much more important as an influencer of Trump on his Middle Eastern policies in ways that did not receive any publicity but were much more important than the basically petty corruption going on in connection with Trump's inauguration.

So Barrack has now been indicted for these activities, in particular as acting on behalf of the UAE without registering as a foreign agent.  Not only that he also has been indicted for lying to the FBI about this under oath, something that somehow a lot of Trump associates somehow thought they could get away with.  Indeed, Barrack did get away with it for some time as the FBI initially investigated him for these things in 2018, but the DOJ under Trump did not move forward on this.  It took Biden becoming president and a change in leadership at the DOJ for this indictment to finally move forward.

It turns out that Barrack was also a long time go between for the Saudis, dating from the 1970s, but his closest relationship was with Emir Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, whose wealth is about $1.3 trillion, making him the world's wealthiest man, not Jeff Bezos, and who also controls the $15 trillion sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi, the richest of the 7 emirates that constitute the UAE, with bin Zayed having bailed out much better known Dubai when it got into financial trouble, with that bailout giving bin Zayed ownership of much real estate in Dubai.

Cole also reports that bin Zayed has apparently had a long and close friendship with Vladimir Putin and that in the fall of 2016 bin Zayed managed to secretly visit Donald Trump in New York without then President Obama even knowing about it.  Cole suggests that bin Zayed was in cahoots with Putin in aiding the Trump presidential campaign secretly.  Much of this was aided by Barrack.

At least Barrack did one good thing, although it did not work out.  He apparently urged Trump to work to have a smooth transition after he was defeated by Biden in the 2020 election.  But obviously on that matter he was not listened to.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Ambivalence of Verfügbare Zeit

Back in December I posted an excerpt from the GrundrisseReichtum ist verfügbare Zeit und nichts weiter, without noticing that in it was a prototype for Marx's concept of socially necessary labour time (Gesellschaftlich notwendige Arbeitzeit): 

Die Schöpfung von viel disposable time außer der notwendigen Arbeitszeit für die Gesellschaft überhaupt und jedes Glied derselben (d.h. Raum für die Entwicklung der vollen Produktivkräfte der einzelnen, daher auch der Gesellschaft), diese Schöpfung von Nicht-Arbeitszeit erscheint auf dem Standpunkt des Kapitals, wie aller frühren Stufen, als Nicht-Arbeitszeit, freie Zeit für einige.

The creation of a large quantity of disposable time apart from necessary labour time for society generally and each of its members (i.e. room for the development of the individuals’ full productive forces, hence those of society also), this creation of not-labour time appears in the stage of capital, as of all earlier ones, as not-labour time, free time, for a few.

Ultimately, I will have to go back (again!) to my post remarking on the absence of socially necessary labour time (explicitly) and qualify it with this occurrence. What this reminds me of is that part of my working hypothesis is that from time to time authors "forget" crucial elements of their discourse and simply carry on without them (or against them) as if they hadn't thought what they thought. It happens to me here.

The upshot of this revision is that three passages from the Grundrisse make substantial contributions to a socially necessary labour time prototype concept. The other two I discussed in previous posts, Socially Ambivalent Labour Time I: Grundrisse and Necessary labour. Surplus labour. Surplus population. Surplus capital. (The Return of "Disposable People"). Combined with Reichtum ist verfügbare Zeit und nichts weiterDisposable People and Socially Ambivalent Labour Time VI: TSV part 3, chapter 21: "Our pamphleteer overlooks two things", I think I am beginning to see an outline emerge of the huge influence the 1821 pamphlet and his critique of it had on Marx.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Vaccination/Infection/Political Divergence Where I Am

 In Virginia, cities and counties are separate, not one containing the other as in most of the US. So I live in the City of Harrisonburg, population about 53,000, which is surrounded by Rockingham County, population about 82,000, both in the Shenandoah Valley about 120 miles southwest of Washington.

In the past Harrisonburg, which contains James Madison University, tended to politically almost perfectly mirror statewide voting outcomes.  However, since 2008 essentially it has become solidly liberal Democratic in its voting patterns and who controls the local government. We used to have GOP mayor not long ago, although they were of the moderate "mountain-valley" type who were holdovers from the days of Abe Lincoln, when the valley was fairly anti-slavery, and Lincoln's father was born in the county here (I have met a member of the family, who is tall and lanky and very progressive, working to help out refugees, Tom Lincoln).

OTOH, the county is very Republican, about 3 to 1 in recent voting.  It used to moderate mountain-valley, but has pretty much gone Trump-mad like most of the party and neighboring West Virginia.

I do not have the exact vaccination numbers, but I know the rate is much higher in the city than in the county.  Previously infection rates and so on were about the same between the two, but not any more.

For July so far,  the city has had 6 new cases, but the county has had 64. That's it.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time VI: TSV part 3, chapter 21: "Our pamphleteer overlooks two things"

Although Marx discussed socially necessary labour time in chapters 4, 8, 9, 16, 17, and 20, he didn't mention it in chapter 21 where he discussed the 1821 pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties by Charles Wentworth Dilke. Marx's reticence here is notable if only for the fact that the pamphlet proposed a method for calculating a sort of socially necessary labour time.

Dilke's method differed fundamentally from Marx's in that Dilke focused on consumption rather than the production of surplus value as did Marx. It is perhaps more intuitive to focus on consumption because, after all, what is the purpose of production if not to provide for consumption? But that misses the point of production under capital, which is to accumulate surplus value.

Marx outlined two ways Dilke identified for capital to overcome the limits to its expansion: investment in fixed capital, which itself runs into limits and foreign trade to facilitate the consumption of luxury goods by the owners of capital and their retainers. Actually, Dilke also paid attention to the role of the extension of credit in the formation of fictitious capital, but Marx did not mention this.

Most significant for our inquiry, in my opinion, is the paragraph outlining the two things that "our pamphleteer" overlooked: 

As a result of the introduction of machinery, a mass of workers is constantly being thrown out of employment, a section of the population is thus made redundant; the surplus product therefore finds fresh labour for which it can be exchanged without any increase in population and without any need to extend the absolute working-time.

"Our pamphleteer" thus overlooked how capital's perpetual generation of a relative surplus population solved the problem of surplus capital. See "Necessary labour. Surplus labour. Surplus population. Surplus capital"!

One other thing in chapter 21. Marx stressed the importance of Dilke's analysis of foreign trade as the means whereby necessaries are transformed into luxuries. In his commentary on the analysis, he mentions "abstract labour" and "social labour." Taken together in context these two terms stand as synonyms for socially necessary labour time. 

But it is only foreign trade, the development of the market to a world market, which causes money to develop into world money and abstract labour into social labour. Abstract wealth, value, money, hence abstract labour, develop in the measure that concrete labour becomes a totality of different modes of labour embracing the world market. Capitalist production rests on the value or the transformation of the labour embodied in the product into social labour. But this is only [possible] on the basis of foreign trade and of the world market. This is at once the pre-condition and the result of capitalist production.

In these two paragraphs -- the first critical of the pamphleteer, the second praising him -- Marx summed up his relative surplus population view of socially necessary labour time:

Abstract wealth, value, money, hence abstract labour, develop in the measure that concrete labour becomes a totality of different modes of labour embracing the world market. Capitalist production rests on the value or the transformation of the labour embodied in the product into social labour. But this is only [possible] on the basis of foreign trade and of the world market. This is at once the pre-condition and the result of capitalist production... As a result of the introduction of machinery, a mass of workers is constantly being thrown out of employment, a section of the population is thus made redundant; the surplus product therefore finds fresh labour for which it can be exchanged without any increase in population and without any need to extend the absolute working-time.

Finally, Marx's possessive reference to "our pamphleteer" and "our pamphlet" is unique to The Source and Remedy. The many positive comments he wrote about the pamphlet in Theories of Surplus Value and his many references to it in the Grundrisse make it clear that these terms of endearment were not meant ironically. My contention is that Marx's category of socially necessary labour time and the integral relationship to it of relative surplus population (or the industrial reserve army) were grounded in a constructive critique of the pamphlet, which Marx held in high regard.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Bad News About Iran And Nuclear Deal

 In yesterday's Washington Post it was reported that there will be no further negotiations between the US and Iran (and other parties) in Vienna over the US and Iran rejoining the JCPOA nuclear agreement that Iran had been adhering to when Donald Trump withdrew the US from it in 2018, then reimposing economic sanctions on Iran, with Iran then starting to violate the agreement in various ways starting a year later.  President Biden had promised to rejoin the agreement as part of his campaign, but negotiations on doing so had bogged down.

It was completely unsurprising that the moderate Iranian President Rouhani would be succeeded by a hardliner, Raisi, who is due to take office next month. Nevertheless, there had been reports that Supreme Leader Khamenei in Iran was supporting completing the negotiations with the team of Rouhani prior to Raisi taking office as a way of getting the deal done and off the desk as it were so Raisi would not have to deal with it. But apparently he has changed his mind, and if in fact there is to be a successful negotiation and a resumption of both nations rejoining the agreement, it will be done by a team assembled by Raisi after he takes office.  I consider this to be bad news as it may indicate no deal will be able to be made.

The report suggested that most of the practical issues had been resolved by negotiations that have happened so far.  These involve the timing of how both sides undo their respective actions that pulled them out of the agreement practically. For the US this would be the matter of ending the various economic sanctions while for Iran this would be undoing their advanced uranium enrichment programs they have been engaging in that are beyond the agreement's limits. These were non-trivial matters to agree to, but reportedly the deal on them was cut.  Maybe the best that can be hoped for is that when negotiations resume, at least this agreement is in place to work from.

So, what remains to hold things up? Unfortunately on both sides it seems to be matters being demanded by hardliners who basically do not want the agreement to be resumed, unrealistic demands.  From the Iran side it is a demand that somehow the US never leave the deal again. Well, maybe this is something the Biden people ought to be willing to grant.  But the problem is that it is not something that can really be promised in a credible way given that if Trump or somebody like him gets elected president in 2024 or later, there is simply no way that person can be kept from leaving the deal again as Trump did.  Biden can make promises, but there is no guarantee they can be kept.  I am not sure what the Iran side wants beyond some promise that cannot be kept necessarily.

On the US side it is a demand that Iran agree to followup talks on such matters that the Trump administration had wanted, and the US had tried to get but could not in the original negotiations back in 2015 for the deal. These include limits on Iranian missile programs and influence on various militias in other nations, such as Iraq and Syria.  These might be nice to have, but Iran refused to accept them in 2015, and it has been clear all along that Khamenei is not going to accept them now.  Maybe Khamenei could agree to such negotiations and then once both parties rejoin the agreement lets them start but just lets them bog down and go nowhere. But for now he does not seem to be willing to do that, and if he was, he would have let the current negotiating team make such a deal.

So we seem to be looking at a situation where hardliners on both sides are blocking a final agreement by making what are clearly unrealistic demands.  This is not a good sign at all for a favorable resolution of this at all.  This should have been a no brainer for the Biden administration, and they simply should have rejoined the deal upfront, especially once they got agreement from Iran to rejoin it too without all these extra demands. This is a failure with Biden letting Trump get the better of him in the end.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time V: TSV part 3, chapter 20

Marx's discussion of socially necessary labour time in Chapter 20 of Theories of Surplus Value is notable for the fact that it comes immediately before Chapter 21, where he doesn't mention socially necessary labour time (but the concept lingers just below the surface in the latter chapter). He talked about how piece-work is actually a kind of time work in which the piece rate is set according to expectations of how many pieces can be made in a designated period of time.

Once again Marx reiterated the notion of value being measured in terms of abstract labour: simple, uniform, average labour. "That the quantity of labour embodied in a commodity is the quantity socially necessary for its production -- the labour-time being thus necessary labour-time -- is a definition which concerns only the magnitude of value.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Almost Record Heat In Death Valley

 My niece, Erica Werner, is a reporter for the Washington Post.  She long covered heated debates in Congress over economic policy, getting on the front page a lot as during the passing of the Covid relief bill earlier this year. But then she moved to South Pasadena, CA a few months ago for family reasons and disappeared from the WaPo  front page.

But there she is on today's front page and above the fold with a story whose headline reads "Just short of an infernal mark" sub-headline "";Heat tourists' marvel even as Death Valley temperature fails to reach world record." Above the story is a photo of a man taking a photo of a woman pointing to a digital thermometer outside the Furnace Creek Visitor Center reading 134 F 56 C," which would have indeed been an all time world record high temperature.  However, the story reports this thermometer was determined to be unreliable, with the temperature "only" reaching 129 F.

So, from the heat of policy debates in DC to real actual heat in Death Valley for my niece.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Disposable Industrial Reserve Army

Unemployment is socially necessary. Discuss.


Socially Ambivalent Labour Time IV: TSV part 2, chapters 8, 9, 16, and 17

Nothing notable in these chapters. Chapter 8: Poor quality land requires more labour time than socially necessary (which is to say the average labour time required to produce a given output). Chapter 9: Socially necessary labour time is permanently established in nature, in industry it is constantly disappearing. Chapter 16: The value of labour is established by the customary means of subsistence of the labourer (this appears to be a notation on Ricardo's view). 

In chapter 17, Marx discussed the crisis. (Brad DeLong called it Marx's Half-Baked Crisis Theory) The first appearance of socially necessary labour time is in an assumption that the time for producing the commodity is socially necessary. The crisis arises out of the separation between the act of selling the produced commodity and using the money from that sale to buy another commodity. Marx acknowledged the possibility of partial crises resulting from disproportionate production -- where one commodity contains more than the socially necessary labour time -- but that is not the crisis Marx was concerned with in his analysis. To repeat, Marx was concerned with the crisis that resulted from the separation of the acts of selling and buying. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

The Removal of Robert E. Lee's Statue from Charlottesville

Early this morning the statue of Robert E. Lee was finally removed from a park in the city of Charlottesville.  This issue had brought the awful racist riot on August 17, 2017, which led to Heather Heyer being killed by a racist in a car. A statue of Stonewall Jackson, long located on the city courthouse site, was also removed, as well as later in the day without warning a statue of Lewis and Clark with Sacajawea. The statues are going into city storage with the ultimate destination of these statues still to be determined. The statue of Lee in Richmond remains in place, more seriously in place.  It took a change in Virginia state law in 2020 to allow the City of Charlottesville to remove these statues.

I note that the statue of Lee in Charlottesville, an impressive piece that I have always thought looked pretty impressive, was only put up in 1926, with the photo of the event showing what it was really about, a manifestation of Jim Crow, with many people in the photo of that inauguration in full white robes of the KKK. Really.

I have a family link to all this.  It is fact that Lee himself opposed putting up any statues to himself. His official view was that war was over and people needed to move on. This was shown in two letters he wrote.  One was to a group who wanted to put a statue of him at Gettysburg. Lee said no.  The other was a letter to my relative Gen. Thomas Lafayette Rosser, who also was supporting a statue of him somewhere, and Lee said no, in that letter laying out this "move on" argument. Ironically Gen. Rosser is buried in Charlottesville off the same street, Market Street, where Lee's statue long sat. On Rosser's grave it is noted that he was a true follower of Lee.

Barkley Rosser 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time III: Theories of Surplus Value, chapter 7 and addenda to part 1

In an earlier post, I mentioned that in chapter seven of TSV Marx explicitly excluded William Godwin from his historical review of theories of surplus value:

In accordance with the plan of my work socialist and communist writers are entirely excluded from the historical reviews. These reviews are only intended to show on the one hand in what form the political economists criticized each other, and on the other hand the historically determining forms in which the laws of political economy were first stated and further developed. In dealing with surplus-value I therefore exclude such eighteenth century writers as Brissot, Godwin and the like, and likewise the nineteenth-century socialists and communists. The few socialist writers whom I shall come to speak of in this survey either themselves adopt the standpoint of bourgeois economy or contest it from its own standpoint.
Godwin was not a socialist or communist writer. Marx did discuss Malthus and Thomas Chalmers, whose works were presented as refutations of Godwin, so presumably that should have been relevant to the question of "in what form the political economists criticized each other." In the addenda to part 1, which immediately followed chapter 7, Marx discussed all manor of eighteenth century and earlier writers including Hobbes, Petty, Locke, Hume, North, Berkeley, and Quesnay.

In part, Dilke's The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties was a rebuttal to Malthus and Chalmers on Godwinian and Ricardian grounds. In chapter 21 of TSV, Marx mistakenly identifies the author of The Source and Remedy as "a captive of the economic categories as he finds them" who "stands rather on Ricardian ground":

The author stands rather on Ricardian ground and is only consistent in stating one of the consequences inherent in the system itself and he advances it in the interests of the working class against capital.

For the rest, the author remains a captive of the economic categories as he finds them.

Dilke stood on Ricardian ground to criticize political economy immanently. I will return to chapter 21 in due course but there is one passage in it that is directly relevant to "Necessary labour. Surplus labour. Surplus population. Surplus capital." In the passage from chapter 21, Marx complained that "[o]ur pamphleteer overlooks two things":

As a result of the introduction of machinery, a mass of workers is constantly being thrown out of employment, a section of the population is thus made redundant; the surplus product therefore finds fresh labour for which it can be exchanged without any increase in population and without any need to extend the absolute working-time.

What the pamphleteer overlooked was precisely the point Marx addressed in "Necessary labour, etc." The creation of redundant labour capacity -- a reserve army of the unemployed, so to speak -- is a necessity for engaging the surplus capital that results from the production of relative surplus value.

(An update to my review of chapter four of TSV: the term "labour-time necessary" appears twice in chapter four. By context, it would appear to be a synonym for socially necessary labour time or labour time [socially] necessary. Labour-time necessary also appears in chapter 1, "The Commodity" of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy where "socially necessary labour time" does not occur. Marx also made an important distinction there about what he meant by "social" in reference to exchange value:

...it is assumed that the labour-time contained in a commodity is the labour-time necessary for its production, namely the labour-time required, under the generally prevailing conditions of production, to produce another unit of the same commodity.

From the analysis of exchange-value it follows that the conditions of labour which creates exchange-value are social categories of labour or categories of social labour, social however not in the general sense but in the particular sense, denoting a specific type of society.

In volume 1 of Capital, Marx used the shorter phrase "labour-time necessary" fifteen times, with seven of those referring to the labour-time necessary for the reproduction of labour power.)

Index to all posts on socially necessary labour time.

I will take the opportunity to plug my publication, "The Ambivalence of Disposable Time" in each of these episodes. I am linking to the published journal article. If anyone needs free access to the author's preprint, let me know in comments and I will leave a link there. 

 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Necessary labour. Surplus labour. Surplus population. Surplus capital. (The Return of "Disposable People")

This post will be a bit of a backtrack. While going through my notes for chapter 7 of Theories of Surplus Value, I discovered a printout of a page from the Grundrisse that I had overlooked when writing the post on that book. Although it does not contain the term socially necessary labour time, the two and a half page section with the same title as this post speaks volumes about the concept.

First, a little context: the section follows discussions of T. R. Malthus and Thomas Chalmers on population. Or perhaps denunciations of Malthus and Chalmers would be more accurate description of Marx's notes on their arguments. In that earlier discussion Marx referred to Chalmers's On Political Economy in Connection with the Moral State and Moral Prospects of Society (1832) and quoted the passage, "Profit has the effect of attaching the services of the disposable population to other masters, besides the mere landed proprietors, … while their expenditure reaches higher than the necessaries of life." 

Chalmers's celebration of this "disposable population" is a reprise of his 1808 introduction of the term in An inquiry into the extent and stability of national resources:

After the subsistence of all the necessary population, an immense quantity of surplus food is still unconsumed, and an immense population, supported by that food, is still unoccupied; and the productions of their industry are still in reserve to widen the sphere of enjoyment, to add to the sweets of human life, and the comforts of human society. This remaining population constitutes the third division of the population of the country; and to it I give the name of the Disposable Population.

In an unpublished paper, I speculated that Chalmers's "disposable population" was the inspiration for Charles Wentworth Dilke's disposable time as a rebuttal to Chalmers (see my earlier post on Disposable People). In contrast to Chalmers's delight about the disposables, Dilke lamented "all unproductive classes" that "destroy the produce of the labour of a society, and consequently prevent or delay the further increase of capital." 

Marx, in the section on Necessary labour, etc. also appears to have been reacting to Chalmers in remarks about "idlers, whose business it is to consume alien products and who, since crude consumption has its limits, must have the products furnished to them partly in refined form, as luxury products."

Marx then contrasted the "disposable population" of idle consumers with the surplus population of idled labour capacities -- that is the unemployed, whose very idleness is "necessary" to the continued expansion of capital. The key phrase in the following is "turns into its opposite." The actually necessary labour appears as superfluous because labour because it is (socially) necessary "only to the extent that it is the condition for the realization of capital":

Labour capacity can perform its necessary labour only if its surplus labour has value for capital, if it can be realized by capital. Thus, if this realizability is blocked by one or another barrier, then (1) labour capacity itself appears outside the conditions of the reproduction of its existence; it exists without the conditions of its existence, and is therefore a mere encumbrance; needs without the means to satisfy them; (2) necessary labour appears as superfluous, because the superfluous is not necessary. It is necessary only to the extent that it is the condition for the realization of capital. Thus the relation of necessary and surplus labour, as it is posited by capital, turns into its opposite, so that a part of necessary labour – i.e. of the labour reproducing labour capacity – is superfluous, and this labour capacity itself is therefore used as a surplus of the necessary working population, i.e. of the portion of the working population whose necessary labour is not superfluous but necessary for capital.

This! This is the topsy-turvy concept of socially necessary labour time in embryo! Marx continued on in this vein for another page. What Marx was getting at is that the process is contradictory: the necessary labour of a portion of labour capacities becomes superfluous and at the same time the superfluous production of the labour necessary to capital's expanded reproduction becomes (socially) necessary. As Marx wrote in a later section, capital "posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary." 

"Socially necessary labour time" is thus not merely an aggregate of individually necessary labour time and surplus labour time but is, in part, an inversion of the necessary and the superfluous. Whether this dialectical legerdemain results in insight or incomprehension remains to be seen. For my part, I think it is brilliant but suspect it is -- if you'll pardon the expression -- unnecessary.

Index to all posts on socially necessary labour time.

I will again take this opportunity to plug my publication, "The Ambivalence of Disposable Time" in each of these episodes. I am linking to the published journal article. If anyone needs free access to the author's preprint, let me know in comments and I will leave a link there. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time II: Theories of Surplus Value, chapter four

In chapter four of TSV, Marx discusses two (or possibly three?) aspects of socially necessary labour time: the devaluation of labour and commodities produced under less efficient methods, and the fall in value of commodities when more have been produced than there is demand for. Note that pursuit of greater efficiency through economies of scale (see underlining) risks overproduction, which compounds the impact on the less efficient producers. 

There is a teaser at the end of the last paragraph that could count as a third aspect of socially necessary labour time. If the production cost of linen remains the same while the production cost of other commodities rises, the relative value of linen to those other commodities would fall. I have a hard time deciding whether that is a distinctive case or simply another path to (relative) overproduction.

The shifting of labour and capital which increased productivity in a particular branch of industry brings about by means of machinery, etc., is always only prospective. That is to say, the increase, the new number of labourers entering industry, is distributed in a different way; perhaps the children of those who have been thrown out, but not these themselves. They themselves vegetate for a long time in their old trade, which they carry on under the most unfavourable conditions, inasmuch as their necessary labour-time is greater than the socially necessary labour-time; they become paupers, or find employment in branches of industry where a lower grade of labour is employed. 


It may be noted in passing: that no more necessary labour-time is employed on a product than is required by society—that is to say, no more time than on the average is required for the production of this commodity—is the result of capitalist production, which even continuously reduces the minimum of necessary labour-time. But in order to do so, it must constantly produce on a rising scale.... The total quantity of labour-time used in a particular branch of production may be under or over the correct proportion to the total available social labour, although each aliquot part of the product contains only the labour-time necessary for its production, or although each aliquot part of the labour-time used was necessary to make the corresponding aliquot part of the total product....   Assuming that the commodity has use value, the fall of its price below its value therefore shows that, although each part of the product has cost only the socially necessary labour-time, a superfluous—more than necessary—total quantity of social labour has been employed in this one branch.

The sinking of the relative value of the commodity as a result of altered conditions of production is something entirely different; this piece of linen on the market has cost 2s., equal for example to 1 day’s labour. But it can be reproduced every day for 1s. Since the value is determined by the socially necessary labour-time, not by the labour-time used by the individual producer, the day that the producer has used for the production of the one yard is now only equal to half the socially determined day. The fall of the price of his yard from 2s. to 1s.—that is, of its price below the value it has cost him—shows merely a change in the conditions of production, that is, a change in the necessary labour-time itself. On the other hand, if the production costs of the linen remain the same while those of all other articles rise—with the exception of gold, the material of money; or even [if the rise applies to] certain articles such as wheat, copper, etc., in a word, to articles which do not enter into the component parts of the linen—then one yard of linen would be equal to 2s. as before. Its price would not fall, but its relative value expressed in wheat, copper, etc., would have fallen.

Update:

The term "labour-time necessary" appears twice in chapter four. By context, it would appear to be a synonym for socially necessary labour time or labour time [socially] necessary. Labour-time necessary also appears in chapter 1, "The Commodity" of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy where "socially necessary labour time" does not occur. Marx also made an important distinction there about what he meant by "social" in reference to exchange value:

...it is assumed that the labour-time contained in a commodity is the labour-time necessary for its production, namely the labour-time required, under the generally prevailing conditions of production, to produce another unit of the same commodity.

From the analysis of exchange-value it follows that the conditions of labour which creates exchange-value are social categories of labour or categories of social labour, social however not in the general sense but in the particular sense, denoting a specific type of society.

In volume 1 of Capital, Marx used the shorter phrase "labour-time necessary" fifteen times, with seven of those referring to the labour-time necessary for the reproduction of labour power. 

Index to all posts on socially necessary labour time.

I will take the opportunity to plug my publication, "The Ambivalence of Disposable Time" in each of these episodes. I am linking to the published journal article. If anyone needs free access to the author's preprint, let me know in comments and I will leave a link there. 


Friday, July 2, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time I: Grundrisse

Karl Marx did not use the phrase, socially necessary labour time (or its equivalent, labour time [that is] socially necessary) in the Grundrisse (1857-58 notebooks). He did, however, refer once to "the necessary labour of society":

As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of the form of penury and antithesis. The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them. Grundrisse, page 705.

As will become clear in my future discussion of the originally unpublished "Chapter Six" of Capital, Marx was referring to something that had already happened, "modern industry" or "the real subsumption of labour under capital," and not to some hypothetical event in the future. The surplus labour of the mass had already ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth. But what about labour time and exchange value ceasing to be the measure of use value?

Moishe Postone saw this passage as pivotal:

Given the distinction between value and material wealth, so long as the production of material wealth depends largely on the expenditure of direct labor time, both "necessary" and "surplus" labor time can be considered socially necessary. 

This, however, ceases to be the case as the production of material wealth comes to be based on socially general knowledge and productive capacities rather than on direct human labor. In such a situation, the production of material wealth may bear so little relation to the expenditure of direct labor time that the total amount of socially necessary labor, in both its determinations (for individual reproduction and for society generally), could be greatly reduced. The result, as Marx put it, would be a situation characterized not by the "reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour" but rather by "the reduction of the necessary labour of society in general to a minimum." Time, Labor and Social Domination, page 374.

Curiously, though, Postone failed to notice that this crucial passage came in the midst of Marx's discussion of the 1821 pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties, deduced from principles of political economy. In fact, about two-thirds of the famous "fragment on machines" in the Grundrisse is taken up with an appreciation of that pamphlet, documenting Marx's debt to the author (Dilke). Postone, of course, was not alone in ignoring Marx's explicit citation, appreciation, and appropriation of his source.

Marx mentioned the pamphlet in two other places in the Grundrisse. One of the mentions only reiterated the relationship between surplus value and labour time in excess of what was necessary for subsistence of the worker. The second, however, acknowledged the pamphlet's discussion of foreign trade as a way of overcoming the barriers to production thrown up by capital. Marx cited the pamphlet, with emphasis added: "'...in this way the destructive power of the capitalist is increased beyond all bounds. Thus nature is outwitted.'" The second sentence in Marx's quotation abridged what the pamphlet said, "--by foreign trade the capitalists contrive to outwit nature, who had put a thousand natural limits to their exactions, and to their wishes to exact; there is no limit now, either to their power, or their desires, but impossibility."

I will return to the pamphlet's argument about "the destructive power of the capitalist" when I discuss chapter 21 of Theories of Surplus Value. For Dilke, destruction of capital was fundamental to its overcoming the natural limits to accumulation. It is one of the two main features that distinguish his "proto-SNLT" from Marx's SNLT, the other being the adoption of a "plain levelling principle" for evaluating the "necessary" and "surplus" components of total production.

Index to all posts on socially necessary labour time.

I will take the opportunity to plug my publication, "The Ambivalence of Disposable Time" in each of these episodes. I am linking to the published journal article. If anyone needs free access to the author's preprint, let me know in comments and I will leave a link there. 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

On The Centennial Of The Chinese Communist Party

 July 1, 2021 is now over in China but for a few more moments it is still the centennial of the CCP where I am.  Just a couple of observations.  This is partly driven by seeing multiple posts on Econbrowser by "ltr" praising the CCP and not allowing for even a hint of crirticism.

So indeed there is much to praise in the Peoples' Republic of China (PRC) today, with indeed by and large the CCP able to take credit for leading to these outcomes.  These include such widely publicized matters as apparently eliminating deep poverty, having a successful space program that is matching achievements made by the US in the past and is moving into new ones in the future such as a joint moon base with Russia. It also includes developing a substantial solar energy industry, and getting the largest real economy in the world according to PPP GDP measure. There is much more, a lot more.

Of course, most critics note current problems that are being either ignored or lied about, with the treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang at the top of the list.  But policy in other minority areas such as Tibet, suppression of liberties in Hong Kong, aggressive policies towards many neighbors, and suppression of efforts to determine the origin of the Covid-19 virus.

However, I think the CCP should be willing to admit some past disasters, especially as they can argue they have moved beyond them, overcome them. At the top of this list is the massive famine in which millions died that accompanied the Great Leap Forward.  There is also the horrible mistreatment of many people during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.  These were excesses of Maoism.  But they were overcome by following the Dengist reforms later, with Deng Xiaoping labeling the Mao legacy ad 70% good and 30% bad. 

More deeply there is the problem that if one compares the PRC to the ROC, the government on Taiwan, which predated the CCP, its record is simply far superior. Aside from things that can be achieved by a very large country, Taiwan has a superior performance on pretty much all economic, social, and political measures.  The latter not only is a functioning two party democracy, but it has a far higher real per capita income, as well as much greater income equality.

The CCP could have done a lot better.

Barkley Rosser