Monday, November 23, 2015

Offing "The Agenda" Before the Agenda Offs Us

Dean Baker writes:
The time has long since passed when we should be arguing about whether global warming is happening or whether the consequences will be serious. The question is what we are prepared to do about it.
And the answer is… “set targets”?

As long as adopting shorter work weeks and years to achieve full employment is off the agenda, doing something meaningful about climate change is also off the agenda. Shorter hours is not a panacea for full employment or slowing man-made climate change. But excluding shorter hours from the policy mix is the opposite of a panacea — guaranteed toxic.

It is no mistake that shorter hours are off the agenda. It is not happenstance or serendipity. The best way to describe the thinking behind the exclusion is a kind of rentiers’ marxism-in-reverse. Marx’s model of capitalism predicts an “increasing organic composition” of capital. In the absence of capital devaluing crises, such an increase makes labor increasingly scarce relative to capital.

Shorter hours would make labor even scarcer relative to capital. Price of labor goes up, returns to capital go down. Can’t let that happen. This is America, where “free enterprise” rules and the rich buy the public policy regime — and whatever economic policy rationale justifies it — that suits them.

So achieving full employment and mitigating climate change are off the respectable economists’ agenda. The question is what are we prepared to do about that?

14 comments:

john c. halasz said...

" Marx’s model of capitalism predicts an “increasing organic composition” of capital. In the absence of capital devaluing crises, such an increase makes labor increasingly scarce relative to capital." I don't think that an accurate synopsis, Sandwichman. There would be not a scarcity of labor relative to capital, (which would imply a rising wage share), but rather an over-accumulation, an excess supply, of capital, resulting in the twin symptoms of over-production and under-consumption. (Wages might rise during the boom, even occasionally above "value", but that would just spur further capital accumulation to compensate, and wages would never rise enough to absorb the excess output).

But that still doesn't get you to the crux of your problem: how would labor gain the power to decrease labor-hours, precisely by lessening the demand for (and thus relative power of) labor?

Sandwichman said...

"There would be not a scarcity of labor relative to capital, (which would imply a rising wage share), but rather an over-accumulation, an excess supply, of capital,"

How does an "excess supply of capital" differ from a relative scarcity of labor? I threw a curve in my summary which was "in the absence of capital devaluing crises." In Marx's model, the excess supply of capital was supposed to provoke crises. Marx's model didn't address the issue of perennial state intervention to rescue capital from systemic devaluation.

That is, I'm talking about a rigged system, not a pure model of capital accumulation and crisis. In a rigged system, labor would ordinarily have a tendency to become relatively scarce and thus for wages to increase and hours to decrease, leading to further upward pressure on wages UNLESS there was ALSO intervention to suppress wages (NAIRU) and disrupt standardization and reduction of working time.

Sandwichman said...

John,

Also, remember that I wasn't talking exclusively about Marx's model but about "a kind of rentiers’ marxism-in-reverse." It is the latter model that dispenses with full-blown crisis by way of a pseudo-Keynesian technocratic economic management policy.

Denis Drew said...

What are we prepared to do?

How about an all out effort to make union busting a felony? Not only is unfairly strangling the labor market the most humanly damaging species of market warping -- firing those who want to collectively bargain is the most pernicious way of achieving the most pernicious.

When you sneak a recording in the movie house or collude on Wall Street the doing is not harmful -- only the result.

Criminalizing union busting can be done state by state -- starting with the most progressive of course. It being a simple matter of freedom, once folks in an old fashioned union Hell state see the freedom in a nearby state (last poll I saw said 50% wanted to join a union) they may wake up and demand the same for themselves.

Milton Friedman said (in 1980) that unions added 14% wages for their members but reduced wages 4% for everybody else. He might have added that unions raise the wages of employees in similar nonunionized firms by threat of expanding unionization -- which of course results in even more employees squeezing everybody else.

Going by Uncle Milty, we need no unions or all unions (he didn't say that himself :-]). The latter effect can be achieved by centralized bargaining -- practiced in such "inefficient" economies as Germany (which manufactures eight times as many motor vehicles per capita as we do [sounds like the opposite of WWII]) -- and practiced all over the world from French Canada to Argentina to Indonesia.

But, first things first. Get the country organized by a spreading ink blot (now it sounds like Vietnam) of free to collectively bargain states. Bernie never mentions unions. Why is it that upper middle class progressives lose sight of the main counterweight, the average person's power mainspring: labor unions?

Jim Walker, Realtor said...

Denis Drew troll. Senator Sanders is the strongest advocate for labor unions in the contest. Your falseness on your statement exposes you as untrustworthy.

Jack said...

Jim, Calm yourself. Bernie Sanders may be the most progressive guy in the Congress, but he hasn't been able to do much, about the sorry state of affairs in regards to the loss of labor's voice. Maybe he hasn't tried hard enough, but I don't think he'd be talking to a receptive crowd in his own work place. Dennis is not a troll. He talks tirelessly about the need for greater worker strength through more effective and wide spread union representation. Your fight isn't with other progressives, though too many like to eat their own.

I don't think we will likely see a change to the balance of power in either the political nor economic realms without seeing an awakening of worker insights in regards to their own best economic interests. Maybe their lives need to be yet more miserable before they begin to see through the smoke and mirrors of the conservative media and the charlatans who populate the Congress. We don't even have an effective voice in the Democratic Party hierarchy. That too won't change until the political class knows that the voters are aware of the bull shit that they're being fed. I'm not sure that the American workers are smart enough to be intelligent voters. At least not enough of them.

Denis Drew said...

Jim,
On second look -- I only follow politics on the nightly news -- Bernie says he supports card check. To which I can only say, apologetically: big deal! He is just as out of touch as most academic progressives. Every other form of market warping is a big felony. Take a movie in the movie and try to tell them you were just kidding.

If Bernie were out there making RE-unionization his big issue (WE'VE BEEN THERE BEFORE) -- or even a big issue -- it would make tsunami level political waves. I don't see anything hitting the beach.

Labor organizing laws supposedly are in place; the issues are supposedly settled. What we need is an enforcement mechanism -- the same level of enforcement that protects every other commercial interest. I'm listening ...

john c. halasz said...

S-man:

I realize you have other fish to fry here and my interest is not in conserving orthodoxy. But an over-supply of capital only implies an increased demand/price for labor under static equilibrium assumptions. Otherwise, over-accumulation of capital would be labor displacing and the increased output wouldn't match the resulting wage-based demand. It's true that Marx then suggests that, if the cycle of capital accumulation were to resume, that would require that the overall "mass" of capital be devalued to the point that it would meet the available "value" of labor-power supply. (Which is the sort of thing that leads an idiot-savant like DeLong to equate Marx to Austrian liquidationists, but, of course, Marx is proposing an alternative in terms of such crises generating a socialist revolution).

As to Keynesian intervention, the question has always been how far such intervention could "work" before the basic problem re-emerges, (as well as, the political barriers that would obstruct such intervention). But if the economy is "rigged", i.e. not left to its own "natural" tendencies, then the question remains as to who or what is doing the rigging.

And then that leads to the quasi-paradox of what you are courting: where lies the power/capacity to achieve such a reduction of power/capacity?

Sandwichman said...

"But an over-supply of capital only implies an increased demand/price for labor under static equilibrium assumptions."

Exactly. And what I am talking about is a perspective (not mine, not Marx's) based on static equilibrium assumptions. It is not a "fallacy" because it is a guide to policy along the lines of "assume the .01% are the 'job creators'."

Think back to Kalecki's "political aspects of full employment." What kind of theorizing would the adversaries of full employment do -- not because they are opposed to full employment, mind you, only to the inevitable consequences of sustained full employment.

Jim Walker, Realtor said...

I guess I'll have to go back, Jack, and comb through Econospeak archives for examples of Denis Drew's tireless* championship of workers rights to organize. These last two posts seem to mainly lament the strictures against taking bootleg recordings of movies. Not exactly a labor issue. Is Denis Drew a nom de plume for Jerry Seinfeld? http://www.seinfeldscripts.com/TheLittleKicks.htm

*Perhaps not just tireless, I think his wheels are completely off.

Jack wrote: " We don't even have an effective voice in the Democratic Party hierarchy. That too won't change until the political class knows that the voters are aware of the bull shit that they're being fed." So, now the voice, Sanders, that is striving to be effective and has the best chance in the past hundred years to be effective, you and Denis want to tear him down?

And tear down his supporters? Jack wrote "I'm not sure that the American workers are smart enough to be intelligent voters. At least not enough of them."

You guys are progressives as much as Donald Trump is a young slim brunette.

Reading their statements: If Jack and Drew are pro-union, and pro-worker, I have to ask "what do we need the Koch brothers for?" (Besides counter-balancing with their massive wealth the massive intellectual heft of the infamous Walker brothers)

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Voluntary unemployment has been possible for large numbers of individuals for a long time. At least in Australia. It may have meant living in cheap accommodation, moving outside of urban areas and largely getting by through perpetual home production. It's a choice many didn't take up. Whereas many who are (or have been) involuntarily unemployed are left as 'consumers' (of television time, public housing etc).

On the other hand the unions in Australia have supported the mass clearfelling of old growth forests, the targeting of 'greenies' and land take-up by large multinational corporations.

Go figure. The need for cultural change is at all levels. How long will that take?

Jack said...

Jim Walker: "So, now the voice, Sanders, that is striving to be effective and has the best chance in the past hundred years to be effective, you and Denis want to tear him down?" That's a rather tenuous evaluation of what either Dennis or I have written above. Sanders is saying all the right things, as he often has in the past, but few in the Congress are listening. Few in the Democratic Party, Warren maybe a stand out exception, are giving significant support to Sander's efforts. As I said above, it's not Dennis or me that you should be castigating. In fact Econospeak is not a site that warrants self destructive progressive's bating one another.

Jack said...

"Go figure. The need for cultural change is at all levels. How long will that take?"

A question asked and answered about 220 years ago by one of my favorite agents of change. "When, then, will the people be educated? When they have enough bread to eat, and when the rich and the government cease bribing treacherous pens and tongues to deceive them; when their interests are identified with those of the people.
When will this be? Never." M.R.

Bill H aka run75441 said...

Denis Drew is not a troll. If you must, comb Angry Bear for proof.