Friday, July 30, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time VII: Capital volume 1, chapters one and three.

Afterword to the Second German Edition [of Das Kapital, Buch 1] (1873):

I must start by informing the readers of the first edition about the alterations made in the second edition. One is struck at once by the clearer arrangement of the book. Additional notes are everywhere marked as notes to the second edition. The following are the most important points with regard to the text itself:

In Chapter I, Section 1, the derivation of value from an analysis of the equations by which every exchange-value is expressed has been carried out with greater scientific strictness; likewise, the connexion between the substance of value and the determination of the magnitude of value by socially necessary labour-time, which was only alluded to in the first edition, is now expressly emphasised.

Originally I had intended to go through the unpublished "Chapter Six" of Capital before dealing with the originally published volumes. I must confess that in the meanwhile I became transfixed by what I was noticing in chapters one and three and so will get to "Chapter Six" in due course.


A careful reading of the above Afterword will note that Marx referred separately to exchange value and the magnitude of value. These are two different entities, which Marx made clear in section 1 of chapter 1: "exchange-value, generally, is only the mode of expression, the phenomenal form, of something contained in it, yet distinguishable from it." The magnitude of value is, generally, distinct from exchange-value. Why "generally"? Because money is an exception. The value of money and its expression in exchange value are indistinguishable, as Marx will make clear in chapter 3.  

Right from the get-go, Marx tossed a grenade into the classical dichotomy of value in use versus value in exchange. Marx's socially-necessary labour-time theory-of-value is not a labour theory-of-exchange-value or even a labour-time theory-of-exchange-value. 

So let's hear what the imaginary abstract socially average reader takes away from this dialectical bombshell: "use value bla-bla bla-bla exchange value murble murble labour time brr-zzz-zzz value..." Meanwhile, our average reader has begun to wonder just how many yards of linen it takes nowadays to buy a coat and what style of coat it would be. "Where can you buy a coat with linen, anyway?"

Value is not some "substance" of labour time "embedded" in the commodity. The substance of value is a quality, its use value, not a quantity. The magnitude of value of a commodity, comprising the quantity of labour time socially necessary for its production, is a historically specific social relationship between people represented as a relationship between things. A commodity is only an aliquot part of all the commodities of its type. Value is what society has evaluated it to be, nothing more and nothing less.

Exchange-value is something different than, but not independent of value. It is the mode of expression of value and its measure. But don't let the word "measure" fool you. The units on the measuring rod of money are not fixed. The same value magnitude that measures as $2 today might measure $2.10 or $1.90 tomorrow.
The total labour power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society, counts here as one homogeneous mass of human labour power, composed though it be of innumerable individual units. Each of these units is the same as any other, so far as it has the character of the average labour power of society, and takes effect as such; that is, so far as it requires for producing a commodity, no more time than is needed on an average, no more than is socially necessary. The labour time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time.

In case this account of "labour time socially necessary required to produce an article" should strike us as a natural property of the article and not of the historical society in which its production is taking place, Marx placed a section at the end of chapter one explaining the fetishism of commodities.

The character of having value, when once impressed upon products, obtains fixity only by reason of their acting and re-acting upon each other as quantities of value. These quantities vary continually, independently of the will, foresight and action of the producers. To them, their own social action takes the form of the action of objects, which rule the producers instead of being ruled by them. It requires a fully developed production of commodities before, from accumulated experience alone, the scientific conviction springs up, that all the different kinds of private labour, which are carried on independently of each other, and yet as spontaneously developed branches of the social division of labour, are continually being reduced to the quantitative proportions in which society requires them. And why? Because, in the midst of all the accidental and ever fluctuating exchange relations between the products, the labour time socially necessary for their production forcibly asserts itself like an over-riding law of Nature.

"Like an over-riding law of Nature." Which is to say not a law of Nature but only seeming to be. Is it just me or doesn't "their own social action" seem a bit closer to a "revealed preference" than to an "embedded substance"?

In chapter one, section one, Marx dealt with the substance and magnitude of value. That's even the parenthetical elucidation of the subtitle of section one. In chapter three, section one, Marx dealt with the measure of values. But wait. Isn't measure a synonym for magnitude? Sometimes -- but not always and not in this case. There is even such a concept as a qualitative magnitude.

Suppose two equal quantities of socially necessary labour to be respectively represented by 1 quarter of wheat and £2 (nearly 1/2 oz. of gold), £2 is the expression in money of the magnitude of the value of the quarter of wheat, or is its price. If now circumstances allow of this price being raised to £3, or compel it to be reduced to £1, then although £1 and £3 may be too small or too great properly to express the magnitude of the wheat’s value; nevertheless, they are its prices, for they are, in the first place, the form under which its value appears, i.e., money; and in the second place, the exponents of its exchange-ratio with money. 

The form under which value appears, the expression in money of the magnitude of the value, is not the same as the magnitude of value. This is not a confusion on Marx's part or an obfuscation. It is a distinction -- and an important one. Value can only be produced in the sphere of production. It can only be realized in the sphere of circulation. There is thus an antagonism between production and circulation of commodities. 

In section two of chapter three, Marx introduced the market-demand qualification of socially necessary labour time:

Lastly, suppose that every piece of linen in the market contains no more labour-time than is socially necessary. In spite of this, all these pieces taken as a whole, may have had superfluous labour-time spent upon them. If the market cannot stomach the whole quantity at the normal price of 2 shillings a yard, this proves that too great a portion of the total labour of the community has been expended in the form of weaving. The effect is the same as if each individual weaver had expended more labour-time upon his particular product than is socially necessary.

"The effect is the same as if..." In other words, each weaver did not actually expend more labour time than was socially necessary but the all the weavers collectively spent too much time. There were too many weavers. It is thus accidental whether the "transubstantiation" of the commodity's value into money can be accomplished at a price equivalent to its value. But it is not totally arbitrary. Otherwise people would soon stop producing for markets.

Recall that in these early chapters, Marx was dealing with simple commodity production and exchange. He was not yet concerned with buying of labour power and the extraction of surplus value. Or the equalization of profits, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall etc. etc. etc. But already at this primitive stage of analysis, the crucial distinction is made between the magnitude of value and its mode of expression in money. One of these things is not like the other. 

In closing, I'm always wondering how many of the 70 or so hits these posts on snlt get are actual readers. 5? 3? I would be very happy with 12-16 readers. But I suppose if I have ONE attentive reader it should be enough.

Past installments in this series:

  1. Oedipus Marx and the Chimera of Socially Necessary Labour Time June 26
  2. Socially Necessary Labour Time: outline of a review June 28
  3. Socially Necessary Superfluous Labour Time -- a digression July 1
  4. Socially Ambivalent Labour Time I: Grundrisse July 2
  5. Socially Ambivalent Labour Time II: Theories of Surplus Value, chapter four July 4
  6. Necessary labour. Surplus labour. Surplus population. Surplus capital. (The Return of "Disposable People") July 6
  7. Disposable People March 4
  8. Socially Ambivalent Labour Time III: <i>Theories of Surplus Value</i>, chapter 7 and addenda to part 1 July 8
  9. Socially Ambivalent Labour Time IV: TSV part 2, chapters 8, 9, 16, and 17 July 11
  10. Socially Ambivalent Labour Time V: TSV part 3, chapter 20 July 13

  11. Socially Ambivalent Labour Time VI: TSV part 3, chapter 21: "Our pamphleteer overlooks two things" July 18

  12. The Ambivalence of Verfügbare Zeit July 20

  13. Socially Ambivalent Labour Time VII: Capital volume 1, chapters one and three. July 30

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Has The Arab Spring Finally Come To A Full End?

 Arguably the Arab Spring ended a long time ago.  It was after all, Spring 2011, to be precise in terms of when the spring was.  It had arguably started a bit earlier, in December 2010 when an informal street vendor in Tunisia set fire to himself and died as a result of unhappiness over corrupt authorities demanding bribes from him he could not pay.  This led to massive demonstrations against the super corrupt and dictatorial regime of Tunisian President Ben Ali. This led soon after to him fleeing to Saudi Arabia where he died some years later.  A more or less democratic regime came to power then there.

As I am sure pretty much all readers here know, the demonstrations in Tunisia were soon followed that spring by demonstrations in numerous other Arab nations, with some of those also leading to the overthrow of existing governments in several nations, most notably in Egypt and Yemen.  Unfortunately the succeeding regimes were not too long after replaced by newly anti-democratic and authoritarian regimes, with the case of Yemen especially sad given the ongoing civil war there that is being exacerbated by various outside powers and is associated with serious famine and some of the worst conditions for a population anywhere in the world.

In various other nations demonstrations were successfully resisted by in-place authoritarian regimes that remained in power, although in some of them there were some minor reforms put in place in response.  But most of the Arab world remained ruled by non-democratic rulers, with the arguable exception of Lebanon, a currently disastrous economic basket case, and, after the Arab Spring, the place it all started, Tunisia.

But now there seems to have been a coup in Tunisia that seems to have brought to an end its democratic system and put in place an apparently authoritarian new system.  However, like Trump tried to get on January 6, this was an example of an "auto-coup" where an in-place leader effectively seized an autocratic power, upending standard rules and procedures.

The person doing this is current President Kais Saied.  He has fired the in-place prime minister and also suspended the parliament.  Furthermore, he had fairly recently blocked the appointment of judges to the nation's constitutional court, leaving it not functioning. This body could have ruled his actions illegal, but is unable to do so.  When the Speaker of the parliament, Rachid Ghannouchi, attempted to enter the parliament, he was blocked by armed forces figures obeying the orders of President Saied. This looks like the end of democracy in Tunisia, and the final end of the Arab Spring of a decade ago.

The legal basis for this action is that the president has the authority to do this if there is "in a state of imminent danger threatening the integrity of the country and the country's security and independence." Unsurprisingly a WaPo story today quotes one figure as saying that Saied's "interpretation of imminent threat is now being perceived as a little bit over-interpreted."  And indeed there seems to have been no clear or immediate threat from any source to the nation's security or independence.

There have been lots of largely peaceful demonstrations in Tunisia, which is suffering from a depressed economy as well as a serious pandemic situation.  It is a deep disappointment that the post-Ali regime, while reducing corruption somewhat, has failed to get the economy growing noticeably. The upshot has been high unemployment, including of many highly educated people.  There has been a long building frustration and unhappiness with this stagnation. 

As it is, while there are multiple political parties in Tunisia, the main split has been between Saied's pro-secular party and a moderate Islamist party, the Ennadha, which has been in power for periods of time in the last decade without imposing strict Islamist rules as the Muslim Brotherhood did in Egypt when they came to power after the fall of the Mubarak regime.  However, there has been fear of them, with especially unveiled urban women supporting Saied's move.  Mobs have apparently fought with each other in the streets of Tunis since Saied made his move. I might share the general view of these women, but it seems that there was neither a likelihood of Ennadha coming to power in the near future, or if they were to do so they would impose strict Islamist rules, anymore than there was any other "imminent threat."  As far as I am concerned this is a very sad outcome and situation.

Barkley Rosser

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

Socially Necessary Superfluous Labour Time -- a digression

In a comment on my earlier post, Bill H. (run75441) mentioned that he thought at first this series on socially necessary labour time (SNLT) would be about Sydney Chapman's theory. That comment stopped me short because I hadn't thought about the connection between Marx's analysis of SNLT and Chapman's theory of hours.

Recall that Chapman argued that competitive pressures would lead employers to prefer hours of work that were longer than optimal for output and that employees would prefer hours of work that would be longer than optimal for their welfare, although shorter than the hours sought by employers. The reasoning behind such suboptimal preferences was that achieving the long-run optima would require short-term risk with uncertain payoffs.

Output and welfare losses can be estimated to be in the ballpark of 10% and 25%, respectively. That would imply that the optimal labour time for output would be around 90% of the allegedly "socially necessary labour time" and the average individually necessary labour time would be around 67% of so-called necessary labour time. These discrepancies, it should be noted, are in addition to the production of surplus value.

The above speculations are complicated by the fact that Marx and Chapman were referring to fundamentally different theories of value. It may be worthwhile returning to this issue after I have completed my review of Marx's SNLT.

I will 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. 

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. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

RIP Steve Horwitz

Steven G. Horwitz died the day before yesterday of lymphoma at age 57.  Probably most reading this do not know who he was, but he was somebody I knew quite well, even as I disagreed with him quite a lot about economics. He was arguably the leading monetary economist out of the group of neo-Austrian economists who came out of George Mason University and who have been closely linked to Peter Boettke who is there, arguably the leader of the Hayekian branch of modern Austrian economics. Probably his most influential work was a book he published in 1992, Mometary Evolution, Free Banking and Economic Order. While I have never been a supporter of free banking what I liked about this book was that he clearly based his arguments on Hayek's view of economic complexity and how this brought about the spontaneous emergence of economic order, with Steve one of the leaders of thinking in such terms among Austrian economists. I cited this book in my one that has just come out, Foundations and Applications of Complexity Economics.

There is perhaps another reason why I am making this post.  I interviewed Steve for a job, not me being hired, but him being possibly hired at JMU when he came out of George Mason as a fresh PhD in 1990.  It was one of those hotel room interviews, and he did not get invited onto campus as the others from JMU in the interview did not support him coming in. But I found him interesting, and I am not surprised that he came to be quite well known, even if he was not at high powered places. Most of his career he was St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, followed by being at Ball State University in Indiana, where he held a chaired professorship.  Anyway, it seems odd to have someone clearly quite a bit younger whom I interacted with as a more senior person dying.

As I noted, he and I disagreed quite a bit. But somehow we ran into each other here and there quite a bit over the years, and I did have him in to JMU to speak some years ago. We never coauthored, but he did coedit a book I had a paper in on spontaneous order and political economy.  I always enjoyed talking with him as he could always stand his ground and provide strong defenses for his positions.  He indeed was probably the best monetary theorist of his group.

Anyway, I shall miss him. RIP, Steve.

Barkley Rosser 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Socially Necessary Labour Time: outline of a review

I have excerpted all the passages in Capital and Theories of Surplus Value in which Marx explicitly discusses the concept of socially necessary labour time by name and will go through them in manageable chunks. My first pass through the excerpts suggests to me that 13 segments would be a reasonable division of the material. Subsequent segments will superficially examine a few of the many Marxists and Marxologists who have discussed the concept in some detail. My examination will be superficial because those scholars did not address the relationship between Marx's concept and the "plain levelling principle" employed by C. W. Dilke in The Source and Remedy.

I will start with the Grundrisse specifically because Marx did not mention socially necessary labour time in those notebooks (unless the translator played a trick on us and called it something else). There is, however a key passage in the Grundrisse dealing with disposable time, which is dialectically related to socially necessary labour time. Next, I will discuss Theories of Surplus Value in five segments: chapter 4, chapter 7 and addenda, chapters 8, 9, 16 and 17, chapter 20, and chapter 21.

Following that, I will discuss the notorious manuscript "chapter six" that wasn't included in volume I of Capital. The published chapters of Capital will be divided into six segments: the afterward to the second edition and chapters 1 and 3, chapter 7, and chapters 13, 14 and 21 from volume I; Engels's preface to volume II of Capital; chapters 5 and 10, and chapters 38 and 49 from volume III.

Presumably, there will be some sort of summing up before I continue on to examine the views of the experts. Posting of the episodes may be somewhat intermittent as I have an unexpectedly busy schedule this summer. Right now there is a heat wave in B.C. so I won't be doing much posting until things cool off a bit.

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. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Oedipus Marx and the Chimera of Socially Necessary Labour Time

Karl Marx: "Pamphlet No. 1 ends with the statement: 'Wealth is nothing but disposable time'"

No, it doesn't. 

The pamphlet Marx cited was The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties. The phrase, "wealth... is disposable time, and nothing more," appeared on page 5 of the 40-page pamphlet. On page 6, the pamphlet's author asked,

"Why then is it that no existing society, nor society that ever had existence, has arrived at this point of time, considering that in all times, and in all societies, excepting only the very barbarous, a few years would naturally have led to it?

The subsequent 34 pages were dedicated to solving that riddle -- or at least illuminating it. In chapter 21 of Theories of Surplus Value and in the "fragment on machines" in the Grundrisse Marx wrote almost as many words misunderstanding the anonymously published pamphlet as its author, Charles Wentworth Dilke, had used to compose it. There were parts Marx obviously liked very, very much and there were others that he didn't mention. 

Marx's most glaring omission had to do with a calculation by Dilke of an unnamed quantity that one might describe as "socially necessary labour time." It wasn't the same socially necessary labour time that Marx would come up with some 40 years later. 

To arrive at "a rude guess" of capitalist exploitation, Dilke was compelled to "reason from a plain levelling principle." The rationale for such an assumption was unmistakably from William Godwin, whose ideas Dilke paraphrased liberally throughout the pamphlet -- including the "fine statement" that wealth is disposable time, or, as Godwin had written, "the real wealth of man is leisure."

Marx's comment that the pamphlet's author "stands rather on Ricardian ground," revealed what might be called an Oedipal blindness about the paternity of his radical intellectual project. In a notebook from the 1840s, Marx had written, "The theory of exploitation owes its further development in England to Godwin, and especially to Bentham... Godwin’s Political Justice was written during the terror..."

In The condition of the working class in England, Friedrich Engels acknowledged, 

...two great practical philosophers of latest date, Bentham and Godwin, are, especially the latter, almost exclusively the property of the proletariat... The proletariat has formed upon this basis a literature, which consists chiefly of journals and pamphlets, and is far in advance of the whole bourgeois literature in intrinsic worth. On this point more later.

Engels did not return to that point.

Remarkably, in a comment at the beginning of chapter 7 of Theories of Surplus Value, Marx explicitly excluded Godwin, by name, from consideration in the work:

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.

Yeah, please try not to think of an elephant. Especially not the one that ends with the fine statement, "wealth is disposable time." 

I am working on a critique of Marx's category of socially necessary labour time and I am astonished that no one has thought to examine its history. They call it historical materialism, don't they? Do all these Marxists really just assume that socially necessary labour time sprung like Athena from the head of Zeus?

Toward the end of Time, Labor and Social Domination, Moishe Postone wrote,

The trajectory of capitalist production as presented by Marx can be viewed, then, in terms of the development of the social division of time-from socially necessary (individually necessary and surplus), through socially necessary and superfluous, to the possibility of socially necessary and disposable (which would entail overcoming the older form of necessity). This trajectory expresses the dialectical development of capitalism, of an alienated form of society constituted as a richly developed totality at the expense of the individuals, which gives rise to the possibility of its own negation, a new form of society in which people, singly and collectively, can appropriate the species-general capacities that had been constituted in alienated form as attributes of the Subject.

But Dilke had already asked, two hundred years ago, "Why is it that no existing society, nor society that ever had existence, has arrived at this point of time?" 

It seems to me as though Marx reverse engineered his category of socially necessary labour time to somehow reconcile his profound insights into capital's domination of labour with aspirations for the proverbial "realm of freedom beyond necessity." Dilke and Godwin made explicit the requisite conditions for realizing that realm of freedom: 

Dilke: "The accumulation of capital is very limited, if the happiness of the whole, and not the luxuries of a few, is the proper subject for national congratulation."

Godwin: "The commodities that substantially contribute to the subsistence of the human species form a very short catalogue: they demand from us but a slender portion of industry. If these only were produced, and sufficiently produced, the species of man would be continued. If the labour necessarily required to produce them were equitably divided among the poor, and, still more, if it were equitably divided among all, each man’s share of labour would be light, and his portion of leisure would be ample."

Marx presumed that capital's continual striving to exceed those limits would magically create the material conditions to "blow the foundation sky-high." What is being blown sky-high nowadays are carbon dioxide emissions.

There will be a continuing series of posts on SNLT. One of the tasks in preparation for these essays was to search through all volumes of Capital and Theories of Surplus Value for mentions of socially necessary labour time. I will be posting excerpts in manageable snippets. Postone's Time, Labor and Social Domination contains too many mentions of SNLT to excerpt. I will also refer occasionally to some of the voluminous literature on Marx's category of socially necessary labour time, none of which so much as mentions Godwin or The Source and Remedy

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.  

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Will Tether Bring All The Cryptocurrencies Way Down?

 I do not know, but there is a fairly serious argument now out there that this could happen.  It is made by Gennaro at hackermoon.com/tether-and-the-great-crypto-ice-age-115h329k , picked up on by Tyler Cowen on Marginal Revolution without comment. Among those Gennaro cites at least partly supporting his argument are Nassim N. Taleb.

So the argument is that bitcoin and most other major cryptocurrencies are now fundamentally based on stablecoins tied to the US dollar, with claims those stablecoins can be easily traded into dollars.  According to Gennaro, and I do not know if he is right, the various non-stablecoin cryptocurrencies now use stablecoins to trade between each other at low costs, with these stable coins providing liquidity, but at the cost of a dangerous potential instability.  If there is a rush on them, they have no ultimate backer, and a crash by them could drag all of the cryptocurrencies into an ultimate total crash into an effectively zero absorption barrier, with Taleb apparently providing some support for this possible scenario.

As it is, Tether is now the leading stablecoin, indeed the #3 cryptocurrency overall, behind Bitcoin and Ethereum.  According to Gennaro, the central fact of crypto trading is that the most important ratio is that between bitcoin and tether, not bitcoin and the dollar, although the latter is the ultimate measure of value, the de facto "gold" of the cryptocurrency markets, even as bitcoin itself has been claimed to the "new gold," and gold has definitely become quite boring.

Again, according to Gennaro, a major problem with Tether is that while on the one hand it has essentially centralized Bitcoin trading into itself, if not all crypto trading.  But unlike the dollar, which has the Fed to back it up, Tether has nothing. It is owned by a semi-murky Hong Kong based entity, Bitfinext, which has already been in legal trouble in the state of New York for misrepresenting and hiding certain transactions and assets.  Gennaro argues this shows that it has no backing, and that a run on it will make it unable to access actual US dollars, the world's actual key currency, which could lead to an implosion dragging down the entire cryptocurrency market, given the nonexistence of any entity capable of coming to its rescue.

For those who want to find this particular tale somewhere between laughable and unlikely, while Bitcoin, Ethereum, and several other leading cryptocurrencies have suffered major declines recently, driven by such things as the Chinese government imposing serious restrictions on their mining and use, the one cryptocurrency that has gained in the last week has been, oh yes, Tether.  But then pride goeth before a fall,. While I am going to stay out of forecasting anything in these markets, given how many important market manipulators are playing in them, regarding whom I have no idea what they will do, it does seem that the possible volatility and more deeply threatening threats in them has increased.

Barkley Rosser

TimeWork Web Reloaded

Publication of my article, "The Ambivalence of Disposable Time: The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties at Two Hundred," felt very much like the culmination of a 26-year long research project that began when I answered a call for proposals from the B.C. Ministry of Employment and Investment. My proposal included a research hub website, which was pretty innovative for 1995. It turns out that no research contract was awarded because a provincial government spending freeze terminated the selection process. But the proposed website materialized as the TimeWork Web and endured until 2004 when it was integrated into the Work Less Party website as a resource for the Work Less Institute of Technology.

I had the old html files from 1995 and 2004 on hand so I decided to revive the TimeWork Web with pages featuring the publications that have resulted from the project, a couple of upcoming conference presentations and, of course, the historical archives from 1995, 2004 and a middle one I call "1999" reconstructed from files retrieved from the Internet Archives Wayback Machine.

There is also a pop-up economics page that embeds animated videos produced by Reuben Walker of three of my pop-up books along with a brief summary of the contributions of the theorists the books celebrate: Charles Wentworth Dilke, Sydney J. Chapman and Arthur O. Dahlberg.


Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Iranian Presidential Election

 The outcome is as expected, a solid victory with 18 out of 28 million votes or so for the hardline winner, Ebrahim Raisi, who is currently head of the Supreme Court.  He was previously Attorney General, ran four years ago for president, and has a long history of being a public prosecutor going back into his 20s (he is now 60). In 1988 he played a role in the killing of about 5,000 prisoners, which led him to be sanctioned from traveling in the US. He has regularly ordered executions, gaining a reputation as a "hanging judge," although I think they mostly use the electric chair there.  While has run against corruption, there are reports that he is involved in some, and this will probably be used against selected political opponents. He was clearly the favorite of the supreme leader, Vilayet-al-faqih (numerous transliterations of that title), often translated as "Supreme Jurisprudent," Ali Khamenei, age 82, who is Commander-in-Chief of the military as well as the top person of the police and judiciary, over Raisi in the court system.  Many see this a Raisi being positioned to succeed Khamenei in that position.

Turnout was unusually low at less than 50 percent, with many voters boycotting the election.  It is clear that Khamenei and the hardliners did not want any "surprise" moderate winners as has happened in the past, arguably 8 years ago with outgoing President Hassan Rouhani.  In 2013 Iran was suffering severe economic sanctions that President Obama organized, with Russia and China largely joining in, which had the goal of bringing Iran to the nuclear negotiating table.  Rouhani ran on doing that and went after he got elected.  This led to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement where Iran shut down some reactors and reduced its uranium enrichment to less than 3.75 percent.  Most of the economic sanctions were lifted, although the US retained some that had been on previously due to human rights issues, and the Iranian economy turned around and had positive growth again.  This led to Rouhani being reelected four years ago, even though then President Trump was talking about leaving the agreement, which all agreed Iran was keeping to.  But he had not done so at that point.  He did withdraw the following year, imposing even stronger sanctions and demanding European and other firms follow suit as well, although no other signatory to agreement supported Trump's decision.  But the sanctions hit, and the Iranian economy turned around and has been in a steep fall since with solid double digit unemployment and inflation rates.  Oil exports are now about one tenth of what they were before. 

Trump's SecState, Pompeo, whose arrival in office coincided with the move to leave the JCPOA, made 12 diplomatic demands on Iran and declared that either Iran would agree to some of these and return to the negotiating table or the regime would fall.  None of that happened, although the Iranian economy has suffered greatly with much suffering for the Iranian people.  Unsurprisingly this outcome completely discredited Rouhani and his allies, with their hardline enemies, some of whom had said the US cannot be trusted to make an agreement with, looking good and riding high.  Thank you, President Trump for this total failure on your part, possibly the worst foreign policy move of the whole administration.

Even though the moderates were seriously discredited, Khamenei was not taking any chances.  For candidates to run for office in Iranian elections they must be approved as being "sufficiently Islamic" by the Council of Guardians, a 12-person body half of them appointed by Khamenei and the other half by the judiciary, with now-President-Elect Raisi having selected three of them.  The body ruled out the two most serious moderate candidates in the mold of Rouhani, one of them his vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, and the other, and apparently more substantial candidate, Ali Larijani, a former Speaker of the Majlis (parliament) who was the lead negotiator of the JCPOA nuclear deal.  

This left as the most substantial moderate candidate, much more conservative than either of those two, the head of the central bank, Abdolnasr Hammeti, who urged people not to boycott. But in the end he came in third, with the second place winner, Mohsen Rezaei, a former Revolutionary Guard commander and hardliner, getting about three million votes. Some of have noted that Raisi versus Hammeti was sort of like having Chief Justic John Roberts run against Fed Chair Jerome Powell in the US.

While this will almost certainly lead to some crackdowns on mild liberalizations in the treatment of women in Iran, it is unclear what many of Raisi's policies will be.  Given his solid frontrunner status he was reportedly quite vague about his plans during debates that happened (there were 7 allowed candidates in all).  He seems to have a pretty free hand, within limits.  

One area that may not turn out too badly has to do with the ongoing renegotiation of the JCPOA agreement, which Biden ran on reentering.  Those negotiations have reportedly made some progress, but had become stalled, with many essentially seeing the Iranian side as waiting for this election to do anything serious.  The big complication is that both sides ended up violating the agreement, so there is a timing issue of who undoes which violation before the other in order to get the agreement back in place.  Iran actually continued to obey the agreement for a year after the US withdrew, hoping the Europeans might either not go along with obeying the US sanctions or even convincing Trump to rejoin it.  But after this did not happen, they began to violate it in several ways, including now enriching uranium up to a 60 percent level (90 percent is weapons grade level).  

In any case, supposedly Raisi supports the negotiations, and in any case any return to the agreement will require the support of Khamenei, who presumably will be more supportive of something Raisi might come to. What is clearly not going to happen is that any of the additions to the agreement some in the US (and some other well-known outsiders) have been demanding be made, most notably to add restrictions on the Iranian ballistic missile programs. That is not going to happen, and now Putin has agreed to help then with a satellite program that will support that.  The best that can be hoped for is some sort of return to the old agreement, so stupidly trashed by Trump, but even that is not a slam dunk at all.

Addendum a few hours later: I have just read Juan Cole's analysis of the election. Mostly agrees with mine.  He makes a couple of extra important points. One is that there is a six weeks transition while Rouhani is still president.  He thinks Khamenei wants Rouhani to make the deal with the US on renewing the JCPOA during this period so that if things do not work out, Rouhani can be made the scapegoat, although he definitely wants a deal and the sanctions lifted.

The other point is that one reason he wants Raisi in, aside from perhaps grooming him as likely successor, is that he wants to resist opening the economy and society to outside influences.  Marina and I have long described Iran as the premier example of a New Traditional economy, one trying to combine a traditional cultural system (Shia Islam) with a modern economy. But this involves a serious tension between being open to new technologies and all that and preserving that cultural dominance the ulama have there in Iran.

He also commented on local foreign policy implications, but these seem fairly few.  Raisi visited Iraq in February and supported the pro-Iran parties there.  Would like US totally out, but this is not new.  Seems to have worked on improving relations with neighboring Iraq, who is clearly very important economically for Iran.  He supports Assad in Syria, and has said little about Yemen, although the Houthis welcomed his election.

Barkley Rosser


Saturday, June 19, 2021

Bottom Line On The Biden-Putin Summit

 According to Robyn Dixon of the Washington Post on 6/18/21 regarding the outcome of the Buden-Putin summit in Geneva, I shall simply quote directly from what looks to be the bottom line from Putin himself:

Despite a packed European tour schedule, Biden "looked fresh" and was "fully aware of the materials" during the two hours of talks, Putin said:

'Biden is a professional. One should be very observant when working with him in order not to miss anything. He misses nothing. I can assure you," he added.

 Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Why Are Infrastructure Cost So High In The US?

Sorry, but anybody wanting some simple answer on this one, especially an ideologically neat one, sorry, there is not one, Indeed, on this important issue, there is a large problem on this, but not remotely a clear answer regarding why there is this large and important problem.

For numbers on this problem I draw on a Washington Post column yesterday by Catherine Rampell. Here are some of the crucial data. In the early 1930s, just to pick one major infrastructure project, the Oakland-Bay bridge was approved and built within four months.  Yeah, the Great Depression.  But now compared to Europe, where supposedly they have higher labor costs and more regulations, well: a tunnel in Seattle cost three times as much as one in Paris and seven times as one in Madrid. This is not an oddball, this is how it is.  Infrastructure investments in the US now cost multiple times what is does abroad, and these are nations with labor and environmental concerns being taken seriously .

So, what is going on here? The very bright and knowledgeable Rampell confesses that not only does she not know, but she cannot find anybody who can explain it. In a way this looks like the high costs of medical care in the US.  This is  a much more politicized matter, but when one digs seriously into the research there seems to be no single reason, a whole series of matters, not easily resolved.

The issue of infrastructure lacks some of the matters healthcare has, such as how the US is the only nation in the world not having universal healthcare, which many of us think itself would lead to lower healthcare costs for various reasons. But what is responsible for the now high costs of infrastrucuture investment in the US, some of the obvious culprits there for healthcare are not there.

Of course there are many things involved here, which Rampell lays out, but again there is not remotely a "smoking gun," But her list contains the following: "poor planning, complicated procurement processes,  our multilayered federalist system, NIMBY-ism, and risks of litigation." Why all this is worse than so many other high income nations  I do not know. 

She also adds some other matters, such as a tendency of our political system to fund wasteful projects, although this is something that has always gone on, and that I find hard to believe also do not go on in other democratically run nations. Local economic interests have a way of getting their way in democratic political systems, and also do so in non-democratic ones, although even in those places, local economic interests get their way to the degree they get in with the Supreme Leader.

Barkley Rosser 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Zhou Enlai Paradox

A bit over a half century ago when Henry Kissinger was organizing Richard Nixon's visit to China, he was largely interacting on this matter with Zhou Enlai (Chou-Enlai in Wade-Giles transliteration). He reported that during their negotiations he asked Zhou what he thought of the French Revolution.  Zhou replied that "It is too soon to tell." This has since been taken as deep insight by Zhou on a deep historical issue, which indeed is still debated, at least in parts of the West. More recent scholarship has decided that probably rather than being Mr. Deep Historical Genius, Zhou was simply commenting on recent current events, most notably the student-worker uprisings in France in 1968, two-three years prior to their discussions. 

According to the Chaguan column in The Economist, 6/5/21, there is now a film out about the life of Zhou Enlai being shown to children from kindergarten on up, with this produced in anticipation of the centennial of the Chinese Communist Party's official recognition of its founding on July 1. That Zhou rather than many other possible figures is being put forward to children at this time as a role model is most curious and interesting.

I think what is involved here is the regime's effort to resolve its ongoing conflict between traditional Chinese Confucianism and the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist heritage of the ruling CCP. Zhou came from a scholar-bureaucrat family, which fell into pieces, with Zhou depicted as the deep student of traditional Confucianism that he was as well as finding works in his grandfather's library about peasants rising against "feudal aristocracy," with him moving to become a "great proletarian revolutionary." 

So this film about his life provides an effort to overcome this conflict between ancient Confucian Chinese tradition, with its respect for established hierarchies such as the CCP is now, with support for the ideologically revolutionary Marxist-Leninist-Maoist tradition that underpins the Chinese Communist Party on this time of its centennial.

A final note is that the Economist article observes that one reason why Zhou managed to survive through the worst machinations and reversals and upheavals of the Maoist era was precisely due to his deeply serious Confucian education from his youth, this allowing him to "a reverance for Coufucian teachings about self-restraint and the need for officials to swallow small insults in the national interest."

Oh, and as regards the reception by various age groups of this new film about the life of Zhou Enlai, the very young like a moment where he shows his bare bottom, a bit older like seeing him picking and selling wild vegetables as a boy to try to get his family out of debt, and older viewers liking the conclusion, which shows him "to swelling chords, young Zhou waxes indignant on learning that Russia and Japan have taken territory from the ailing Chinese empire, then declares that he studies hard so that China may rise. That phrase of Zhou's is taught in schools to this day and triggers murmers of recognition."

Barkley Rosser