Saturday, April 25, 2015

Meanwhile (Place Holder)

Defiant political economists,  ex- and still-Stalinists,  current and former Trotskyists, "leftists" of all sorts (all sorts being the sorts that attend the Left Forum and/or the World Social Forum) have linked arms to form the Stieglitz Brigade. Marching ever forward in defense of the Syriza government in Greece, the Stieglitz Brigade demands that the European Commission, ECB, and the IMF, release €7.5 billion in "bailout" funds so that Greece can make the required payments of the debt owed to the European Commission, ECB, and IMF. 

There, in a nutshell is all you need to know about finance, refinance, and the critical role played by defiant political economists, ex- and still-Stalinists, current and former Trotskyists, leftists of all sort in the re-formation and recomposition of capital.  

"Long live the chains!" proclaimed the Spanish guerrillas battling Napoleon's troops.  

"More rope!" chants the Stieglitz Brigade.

Meanwhile all those ex and still and former and current and forum patronizers remained silent after this report surfaced in the Financial Times. The Syriza government has agreed to fund a €500 million program to refurbish five P-3B Orion maritime patrol craft.  

Tsipras, knowing that discretion is the better part of democracy, did not present the deal for discussion to the parliamentary defense committee.

The ministry of defense, headed by Panos Kammenos, leader of Syriza's partner, the ANEL party, defended the deal on "humanitarian grounds," the humanity being, in part, providing money to the state aerospace company and a private defense contractor.  Another part of the humanity is the immigration issue, as the Orion aircraft will extend the range and ability of the Greek navy to intercept vessels carrying immigrants fleeing the wars that the EU, NATO, and the US have inflicted upon the Middle East and Asia, thus preserving the basic humanitarianism of capital's wars.  

The five aircraft will be rechristened the Rwanda, the Somalia, the Haiti, the Bosnia, and the Herzegovina in honor of other great humanitarian missions. 

επόμενο άνθρωποι!

April 25, 2015 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In No Particular Order...

1.  There was this from Michael Heinrich, arguing that real Marxists are those who declare they aren't Marxists, or at the very least, don't claim to be capital M Marxist.  Marx describes himself as 1. not a Marxist and 2. a "man of science." That, for Heinrich, not only sums it up, but is itself the it.  

Reading Heinrich, and not Marx, one would never guess that there was a specific content to Marx's "science,"  and that "science" was, in a word, history.  Nope, no sirree Bob, no way José, sorry Charlie, es tut mir lied Karl, désolé, Karl.  For Heinrich, the veracity, accuracy of Marx's analysis is not the point.

There is no point.  There are only targets.  And the first target is "the philosophical simplifications that are presented as 'Marxism,' those mixtures of simple materialism, bourgeois ideas of progress, and vulgar Hegelianism which are presented as 'dialectical materialism' and 'historical materialism.' "

I  think Heinrich means "vulgar materialism" not "simple" materialism, but your guess is probably better than mine.  Well, first off, Heinrich is a little bit late to the sing-along, isn't he?  I mean weren't the critical theorists, the Frankfurt School, the grad students and professors of Telos, the New Left Review, the CLR Jamesists, the Debrayists, the Althusserians,  etc. etc. ad nauseum slaying the stuffed dragons of simple materialism and vulgar Hegelianism forty or fifty years before Heinrich issued this epistle?   I could swear I remember something along those lines, right before or right after James, the Frankfurt School, the critical theorists,  Debray ad nauseum  found a home in this or that institution of capital-- you know, like a "nationalist government" here; a "socialist government" there; a tenured position somewhere?  

Heinrich takes on that cream-puff Lukacs, which is not unlike putting a dead fish on your line and then reeling the line in to show your prowess as a fishermen, arguing that whatever the "reasonable concepts of materialism and dialectic" may be, he doubts "one can put together the foundations of an ontology or all-encompassing method from them."

Right on, brother and all power to the people-- all encompassing ontology and all encompassing method are not Marx's pursuits. The specific historical determinants and limitations of capitalism are his pursuits.  

Heinrich states  that "it's not easy for Marxists to determine what 'Marxism' is."  And this difficulty is "Marx's fault," because only a small number of texts were published in his lifetime, all of the fundamental projects remain unfinished."  Yes, indeed.  But...and there's always a but...

Reading this epistle from Heinrich one would never know that Marx's "science" is the science of the critique of capitalism; of the determinations of capitalism that drive it forward, and put it into reverse.  One would never guess that indeed Marx's critique is the critique of that specific, historical condition of labor,  labor power as a commodity, as a value exchanged for values equivalent to, adequate for its reproduction. 

Actually, reading  Heinrich one would never know that Marx was not first and foremost a "man of science," but a revolutionist; that the critique he provides of capital is a critique that establishes the historical necessity, the practicality, for the proletarian socialist revolution.  Marx establishes that necessity, the practicality of that revolution in that his critique is the immanent critique of capital.  It is based on that condition of labor that is the source of value and its accumulation.  It is the granular logic of accumulation embodied in the existence of the commodity and of commodity production that dictates the barriers to accumulation.  It is the determinant of capital that is its negation.  

A target for Heinrich is those who refrain from an "engagement" with Marx's work.  Engagement for Heinrich apparently means reappraising the core of Marx's work, his critique of capital, his establishment of the material necessity for proletarian revolution, on the basis of "doubts" and "revisions" and the unfinished nature of Marx's work itself.

Except.....except in this regard Heinrich has sighted the cross-hairs on his own head, for the engagement with Marx's work is not, cannot be, solely the engagement with Marx's manuscripts.  It must be the engagement with Marx's own pursuit-- the critique of capitalism and the practical necessity of its overthrow.  Is capitalism as Marx described it?  Value production seeking expanded value?  Is that the necessity of capitalism?  Is that necessity predicated upon, and dependent on the reproduction of the means of production constituted as property and embodied by the class of capitalists in opposition to living labor, compelled as wage-labor, and embodied in the class of wage-laborers?  Does that opposition, the reproduction of that opposition propel the necessity for the overthrow of capitalism?

I know my answers to those questions.  I don't know Heinrich's, and I suspect he doesn't know either.  

Short version: there is no "Marxism," no "engagement with Marx" that does not confront capitalism, and the prospects for its overthrow. 

2.  Then there was this from Michael A. Liebowitz,  professor, author, pretty good writer and former adviser to the late Hugo Chavez's government in Venezuela.  Liebowitz gets right to the point, quoting Engels: "Marx was before all else a revolutionary. His real mission in life was to contribute in one way or another to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the forms of government which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the present-day proletariat." Good point.  

And not just parenthetically, Chavez's government, and "Chavez-type" governments, are forms of government which capitalism has brought into being; forms of government which do not, cannot, amount to the "liberation of the present-day proletariat."

Leibowitz  asks what can be said about Marxists economists?  Are they "revolutionaries whose real mission is to contribute to the overthrow of capitalism?"  The answer to that is "yes," but only if you happen to religiously watch, and believe, Fox News, subscribe to the Cato Institute's newsletter, regularly attend the workshops of the American Enterprise Institute, or associate with the brothers spelled Koch. 

Otherwise, not so much.  I would say, of course, that's because there is no "Marxist economics," economics being to wage-labor, to the commodity of wage-labor, what money is to exchange value-- that is to say, alienation to its dis-embodied max.  

There are other and worthwhile explanations of course, not the least of which is that you can't be a "revolutionary Marxist economist" in a vacuum.  You need a revolutionary working class, or at least sustained and increasing class struggle to make you or me a "revolutionary Marxist."  Without that, we are what we are-- academics, critics of capitalism, railroad operations experts, novelists, painters, translators, day-laborers, farm-workers etc. etc.

Leibowitz proposes, more or less, that a revolutionary Marxist economics must focus upon what Marx "misses" or omits from his critique of capital. Liebowitz claims that Marx's Capital does not really consider capitalism as whole: 
"It does not because it does not develop the side of the workers as subject, subjects who struggle for their own goals. At its core, that goal is what Marx referred to in Capital as 'the worker's own need for development.'  Indeed, the one-sidedness of Capital is most obvious when we recognize that it does not examine the wage struggles (precluded by the assumption of a constant standard of necessity) or the essential requirement of capital (once we relax that assumption) that it divide and separate workers in order to capture relative surplus value.
When we focus upon the side of workers, we recognize that they are more than merely the products and results of capital.  Their specific relation to capital within capitalist relations of production does not exhaust their nature.  They exist within many relations--families, communities and nations--and they interact with other workers.  Through all their activities within these relations, through all their struggles to satisfy their need for development they produce themselves."
Well, yeah.  And yeah, so what?  First, let's be clear, Capital is the critique of political economy; political economy being the ideal and ideological presentation of capitalism.  The three published volumes are subtitled The Process of Capitalist Production, The Process of Capitalist Circulation, The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole.  The "appendix" fourth volume is the  Theories of Surplus Value.  The emphasis is on the material determinants of capital-- the antagonism in the organization of social production as private property.  That's one.

Secondly, there is a limit to Marx's critique of capital, to his exposition of the immanent critique to capital, and that is that the critique, like capital itself, sets out the basis, the necessity, for the overthrow of capital, but is not in itself that overthrow. We're talking classes, aren't we?  The point being that the exposition has to terminate and give way to the concrete social struggle against capitalism.  The proletariat creates itself as the "subject" of the struggle in the struggle, not before, and not in the texts of economists, political or otherwise.

So Capital at a critical point has to be supplemented and supplanted by organization of the "present-day proletariat" to confront capitalism.  Marx did indeed initiate this "transcendence," taking the logical, logical as meaning historically necessary, step, namely his work in the International Workingmen's Association, which he undertakes at the same time as he is drafting and redrafting and finally proofing Capital.

And not just parenthetically, Chavez's government, and "Chavez-type" governments, are not the supplementing and supplanting of Capital/capital by the combat organization of the proletariat. 

Thirdly, the present-day proletariat as a social force, as a class, as an "agent" is what it is because of its relation to and its existence as the reproduction of capital. The emancipation of labor, the "free association of producers" requires the abolition of class.  What Leibowitz thinks Marx omits, the proletariat in its family, national, community interactions,  is in fact that old "class in itself" existence.  The redefinition of the present-day proletariat as a revolutionary force, that old "class for itself" condition, is a condition of transition where the "proletariat as subject" is doing away with itself.  It is becoming no longer "the present-day proletariat. "

Essentially Leibowitz's appeal is for and to "Marxist economists" to make themselves relevant; to make "significant contributions by focusing upon Marxism's lost core, human development;" by "challenging the assumptions and fallacies of mainstream economics;" to "focus upon the health of the working class rather than exclusively the health of capital by developing the theory and measures of human development, including explicit considerations of the crippling effects of producing under capitalist relations."  Except....what does that mean?  How do we measure the "health" of the "present-day proletariat" under capitalism with a method distinct from the quantitative measures of health already in use?  Is the "health" of the proletariat, is wage-labor any less or more alienated at this point in capitalism in relation to that point in capitalism?

Leibowitz asks "Why, in short, aren't we doing what Marx did in relation to the mainstream economics of his time?" Because that is not the "next step."  What Marx did in relation to capitalism, developing the IMWA, an international organization of the "present-day proletariat" is.

3.  Then there's this, I mean this, without a link:  I read and still read Marx's passages on overproduction with a sense of wanting, wishing, almost willing him to make the connection between overproduction and the tendency of the rate of profit to decline as capital accumulates.  Most of the time I was, and still am, disappointed.  But there's always Chapter 15  Capital, volume 3, "Development of the Law's Internal Contradictions."  Refuting the notion that there can be "overproduction of capital" but not "overproduction of commodities," or that overproduction of capital is distinct from the overproduction of commodities, Marx writes:
It [overproduction of capital] is an overproduction of the means of production only in so far as these function as capital, and hence have to produce an additional value in proportion to their value in proportion to their value that has expanded with their mass; i.e have to valorize their values. 
It is still overproduction, for all that, since the capital is unable to exploit labour at the level exploitation that is a level of exploitation that least increases the mass of profit along with the growing mass of capital applied; that therefore excludes a situation in which the rate of profit falls to the same degree as capital grows, or even falls more quickly than this.
Overproduction of capital never means anything other than overproduction of means of production--means of labour and means of subsistence--that can function as capital, i.e. can be applied to exploiting labour at a given level of exploitation; a given level, because a fall in the level of exploitation below a certain point produces disruption and stagnation in the capitalist production process, crisis, and the destruction of capital...The same causes that have raised the productivity of labour, extended markets, accelerated the accumulation of capital, in terms of both mass and value, increased the mass of commodity products, and lowered the rate of profit, these same causes have produced, and continue to produce a relative surplus population, a surplus population of workers who are not employed by this excess capital on account of the low level of exploitation of labour at which they would have to be employed, or at least on account of the low rate of profit they would yield at the given rate of exploitation.
Not bad, although it is not the low level of exploitation of the living labor at which the additional labor will be employed, but the high level of exploitation which however high is not high enough to offset the decline in the rate of profit due to the expulsion of living labor from the production process.

For labor to be expressed as value it must be compelled to present itself as a commodity for exchange with an equivalent to its cost of reproduction, i.e. as the time necessary for that reproduction.  The labor theory of value is the theory of labor-time as value-creating.  Additional value can only be the result of "new time" absorbed in production.

Now as capital expels living labor from the production process, replacing it with machinery,  the necessary time for reproduction of the wage drops; the surplus time increases.  The increased mass of surplus value must itself be valorized, and again the proportion of living labor is reduced, the overall time for reproduction of the wage equivalent declines.

No "new time" is contributed by surplus value once it is accumulated and embodied in new means of production.  The machinery reproduces its cost by transferring that value incrementally into the production process.

Every capitalist dreams of paying zero wages.  However, paying zero wages means that the working class cannot be reproduced or that there is no necessary labor time-- no, or no longer a need for wage-labor.  In both cases, for capital "new time"expressed as new value ceases to exist.  No additional value is absorbed by the means of production and acts as the conduit for transfer of the accumulated value.  There is no longer valorization.  Maximizing the rate of surplus value in order to offset a decline in the rate of profit must always, sooner and later, lead to destroying the basis for the reproduction of capital.  Devaluation is a "benign" expression of this process, a moment that says that the worst is yet to come.

Marx continues:
Moreover, capital consists of commodities, and hence overproduction of capital involves overproduction of commodities...If it is said that there is no general overproduction, but simply a disproportion between the various branches of production, this again means nothing more than that, within capitalist production, the proportionality of the particular branches of production presents itself as a  process of passing constantly out of and into disproportionality, since the interconnection of production as a whole here forces itself on the agents of production as a blind law, and not a law which...brings the productive process under their common control...If it is said that overproduction is only relative, this is completely correct; but the whole capitalist mode of production is precisely such a relative mode of production, whose barriers are not absolute, but only absolute for it, on its basis... It is because it is only in this specific, capitalist context that the surplus product receives a form in which its proprietor can make it available for consumption as soon as it has been transformed backed into capital for himself. If it is said, finally, that the capitalists have only to exchange their commodities among themselves and consume them, then the whole character of capitalist production is forgotten, and it is forgotten that what is involved is the valorization of capital, not its consumption. 
Even better than good.  What is involved is valorization, not consumption.  Value expanding value at a sufficient rate that can offset the very decline predicated upon its continued accumulation.
But the contradiction in this capitalist mode of production consists precisely in its tendency towards the absolute development of productive forces that come into continuous conflict with the specific conditions of production in which capital moves, and can alone move. 
4. And finally.... this, Greece.  The Syriza government has attempted to make its goal for debt modification a national, patriotic struggle... as if the debt, and debt requirements, impact all Greeks equally; as if debt modification will provide significant relief to those who are impacted disproportionately by the austerity programs.  The debt, bailout, restructuring have not impacted, do not impact all Greeks equally.  These programs impact the working class and agricultural producers disproportionately.  That's their purpose-- see above remarks about driving the working class into a condition where it cannot reproduce itself.

Historically, the struggle for a "Greek nation" has been the cat's paw of the "Great Powers"- the "Protective Powers"--  different combinations at different times of Britain, France, Russia and Germany-- in their attempts to block,  contain, dismember, and profit from the Ottoman Empire and its collapse.

Nationalism really is miserabilism, and the "left" that supports Syriza in this endeavor is not "progressive" enough to even be considered a "left-wing" of capitalism. 

Syriza's cynical play on the national card, demanding reparations from Germany almost exactly equal to the amount of Greece's debt to the troika,  is but another cat's paw, designed to protect capitalism as somehow separate from the accumulated debt; designed to deflect from the condition of labor in Greece which cannot be ameliorated without the emancipation of labor in Europe.

The next, immediate step, in essence the first step,  in Greece remains what it was: immediate repudiation of the sovereign debt.

S. Artesian
April 12, 2015

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Johnny B Crude

1. Not so long ago, Pollyanna Pangloss, professor of political economy, public policy, and positivist philosophy predicted that the dramatic decline in oil prices would mean good things for capitalism.

Joined by all the little Pollyannas, professor Pangloss opined that the 50 percent decline in prices would bring yet another sunny day in the endless summer of capital's long wave. "Let's grab our boards and.....accumulate," said the professor.

Singing behind the professor's December, 2014,  acapella  rendition of  "Surfin' Safari" (music stolen from Chuck Berry) were the studio artists known as the Fantastic Baggies-- made up of the IMF, the US Federal Reserve, and the European Central Bank.  Declared the Baggies, in unison, "the low oil prices are a shot in the arm."  Mario the Draghi, given a chance to solo, grabbed the mike and crooned that the price drop was "unambiguously positive" for the world economy.

The "theory" was that for consumers-- and we're all consumers, aren't we?-- reduced prices due to expanded production of US "tight" shale oil would mean cheaper gasoline.  Cheaper gasoline would mean more disposable income.  More disposable income essentially would be a wage hike without costing employers anything.  And consumers, that's us, would consume more at... Starbuck's, Ikea, Loew's Cineplex, Amazon.

More consumption would mean more demand and more demand demands more supply and nothing supplies supply like more investment, and pretty soon, well it would be the most perfect of worlds.

For industry, the theory was that reduced oil prices would mean reduced costs of inputs to production, and lower costs means higher profits.

It was enough, almost, to make one stand up, turn towards North Dakota or Texas or both and pledge allegiance to Bakken, Eagle Ford, and the Permian Basin.  In fracking mud we trust.

2. Hasn't exactly worked out according to the theory. It can't work out according to theory, because the theory presumes that price determines consumption; consumption determines production; and production is last of the line in this long train of capital trying to climb the grade of accumulation.

Turns out, that price, in this case the declining price of crude, was the result of overproduction, and that the price deflation is the manifestation of the devaluation of capital that follows from a tendency of the rate of profit to fall as the means of production accumulate as capital.  Consumption, particularly consumption by all us consumers, is derived from profitability.   Overproduction is the acute manifestation of the chronic tendency of capital which is the falling profitability of production.

We have here a case of devalorization.

3. Once upon a time,  after1986 in fact, the mantra being mouthed in Texas went like this:  "Dear Lord, just give me another oil boom, and I promise not to screw it up."  Kind of true to its words, Texas since that bust has reduced its concentration on energy production.  Still the oil and gas sector accounts for 8.7 percent of the state's economic output.  Between 2009 and 2013, the Texas economy grew at an average annual rate of 4.4 percent, twice that of the United States as a whole.

But meet the new United States, same as the old Texas.  While Texas "diversified," oil and gas production for the US as a whole became an "overweighted" sector in the economy.  Fixed assets concentrated in the oil and gas sector at a rate far exceeding that for US industry as a whole. Between 2000 and 2013, the value of fixed assets in the oil and gas sector quintupled, while those in the entire industrial sector (includes manufacturing, utilities, construction, mining) increased 65 percent.  As a portion of the total fixed assets in industry, during these years those in the oil and gas sector tripled to measure 19.1 percent of the total. Since 2009, 70 percent of net new industrial investment (that portion above the amount required to replace investment in fixed assets consumed in production) has been dedicated to the oil and gas sector.

This concentration of investment in production is mirrored in the portion of bank revenues provided by the oil and gas sectors.  In 2014, oil and gas sector investment accounted for 11.8 percent of  Citigroup's banking revenues; for 14.9 percent of Wells Fargo Securities' banking revenue; for 7.4 percent of Bank America's revenues; 6.6 percent of JP Morgan's.

With US production achieving a record gain for a single year in 2014, with stored crude at its highest volume in 20 years, with the terminal at Cushing, Oklahoma literally topped out, with production from shale sources reaching 4.5 million barrels per day, amounting to half of all US production, the resulting deflation in oil price necessarily rebounds in reduced capital spending in this "overweighted" sector, and reduction in revenues to the still distressed banking sector.  Draghi might talk about a shot in the arm, but what counts is what's in the syringe.  In this case,  it's an overdose of heroin, not the jolt of methamphetamine.

The number of US rigs at work has declined by about 25 percent year-over-year.  The number of offshore rigs, laid up or scrapped has reached a 20 year high and now represents one-quarter of the total.   Schlumberger has laid-off 7 percent of its work force.  The oil "majors"-- ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, etc-- have reduced capital spending budgets between 12 and 20 percent.

What has not collapsed, however, is production from the shale fields.  In January 2015, US producer the number of new wells drilled was 28 percent the number drilled in June 2014.  Shale production however declined only 8.5 percent.  Greater production has been extracted from existing wells.  Even with budgets for new drilling slashed, the capital costs of drilling and bringing shale wells into production are so much less than in drilling offshore, or standard "vertical" wells, new shale wells can be brought on line to maintain production at high levels.  Nothing engenders more overproduction like overproduction.

4.  Oil, container ships, coal, steel, dry bulk carriers, these are all commodities, all capital, all values, all finished products at one moment, and all inputs, intermediate values to further production at the next moment.  The accumulation of capital becomes the biggest obstacle to the accumulation of capital. 

The "good times" are all in capitalism's past, and they were never there to begin with. 

March 31, 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015

De Value

1.  Speaking for myself, I've had more than enough of political economy and political economists. Political economy is of a whole, and that whole is capitalism; political economists, in particular radical political economists are those who radically labor to prove that the alternative to capitalism is of course "radical" capitalism.  Here's an experiment:  take all the radical political economists in the world (starting with those clustering in Greece) put them all in one bag; shake bag; turn bag over.  What comes out?  Nothing. There's nothing there.  End of experiment. Political economy is the original zero-sum.

2. Speaking for myself, if I never hear the words "fictitious capital" again,  I'll be positively grateful.  Really.  And if I never hear a political economist uttering the words "fictitious capital" again... well can one person even expect so much good fortune in a single lifetime?  Obviously not, but that's the point, isn't it?  To not hear a radical political economist talking about non-existent capital capital is such good fortune that it could only occur in the end of the lifetime of a class, the bourgeois class.  It takes more than a village to raze radical political economy and it's "go to" explanation, fictitious capital. It takes a revolution.

3. But, and there's always a but, this thing, er.. this relation, called a revolution just doesn't happen overnight, spontaneously, miraculously.  We need to bend the stick in order to break it, and we are supposed to be all about breaking the stick, not making  a better stick, or putting a better stick into  "better hands."  That's what radical political economists think they are doing, making a better stick, and finding better hands.

4. So here's the thing, er.. the relation, and it's not that fictitious capital doesn't exist.  It always exists.   It's part and parcel, inherent to, immanent in capital, in that capital has no life, no existence, separate and apart from the expansion of value; apart from its self-expansion.  Ergo, hence, therefore any interruption or disruption in the accumulation process, in the process of reproduction, of capital makes all capital fictitious, more or less.  The difference is circumstantial, not determining.

5. So... when they, the radical political economists, are talking "fictitious capital," they think they're  talking debt, or credit, same-same. When Marx talks credit, he's talking about relation embedded in, determined by, the different turnover times of different capitals that somehow have to be reconciled, smoothed, averaged in order for exchange to exist period. Period.

6. Turnover times are the production times and the circulation times of the various capitals.  Now as capital accumulates, in particular as greater portions of expanded value are embedded into the fixed assets, the fixed capital of value production, the portion of value transferred from the fixed assets to any individual commodity decreases.  The time necessary for the turnover of the total capital embedded in production increases.

The time for the system as a whole is made up of individual times for the individual capitals which are necessarily asynchronous.  There is no "harmony," "balance," "equilibrium"  in capital.  Accumulation is realized only through an "uneven" distribution of the total surplus produced in dynamic disequilibrium where capitals are of different sizes, different efficiencies, with different ratios.  Credit/debt embody and reproduce this disequilibrium in, and because of, their "bridging" function of advancing money.  Rather than representing a "fictitious" quantity, credit/debit represent the real quality of capital-- production of, by, and for exchange value; production subjugated to aggrandizement of  value.

7. The iterations of credit/debt-- stocks, bonds, notes, syndicated loans, private equity, asset-backed securities, derivatives based on the future performance of stocks, bonds, loans, ABS, etc-- "advance" as the value mass of fixed assets accrues, as capital expands, as profits increase.  The notion that "self-financing" of industry represents some sort of "healthy" or "productive" condition is pretty much nonsense, primitivist nonsense.

8. The radical political economists ascribe an all powerful role and function to "fictitious capital."  When capital is expanding, the expansion is the product of "fictitious capital."  When capital contracts, the contraction is the result of "fictitious capital."  The source for capital's cycle, in fact for its very existence-- the exploitation of wage-labor; the compulsory organization of labor-power as a commodity, as a value for exchange-- is usurped by, and attributed to the volumes of  "fictitious capital."   Actually, "fictitious capital" is the radical political economist equivalent of "supply and demand"-- answers everything, explains nothing.

9. Consider this: the maritime shipping industry, and the ship-building industry, have been dire straits (pardon the pun) since 2008.  Massive sums were invested in the ships and the ship-building, between 2004 and 2008, far more massive sums than can be generated by profits in any single year.  So where does the money come from?  From the profits accrued through all previous years by other capitals that are held/circulated in the capital markets.  And those sums are in turn secured not by the assets, the ships built, delivered, in service, and anticipated to be in service, but by the value of those assets

For the shipbuilding enterprises,  those sums are secured by the values of the shipyards assets, the values of cranes, supplies of steel, aluminum, copper, microprocessors necessary for production...and by the value of the  ships being built on contract.

10. Remember, the basis of capitalist ownership, of private property in production, is that the owner has no use for the commodities produced, but produces and exchanges the  commodities only to accumulate value.  The loans, notes, bonds, the finance capital, are simply, or not so simply, capital's, or rather, capitalists' attempt to do what capitalists wish they could do everywhere and all the time, separate, disentangle, the heavenly value, the exchange value of the commodity, from its earthly, profane form, its material body; it's existence as an object of use.    

11. Continuing: hard times hit.  Now 10 percent of the container fleet gets laid up, stored at anchorage, no longer functioning as container ships, no longer functioning as capital.  Are the notes, loans, bonds, securities previously secured by the values of those ships now fictitious?  Are the notes any more or less fictitious as capital values than container ships no longer operating in the Asia-Europe trade, no longer functioning as capital?  Of course not.

The notes, like the container ships, like the capital values embodied in the container ships will be devalued, certainly.  That devaluation may discount the value represented by  notes, and the value represented by the ships, all the way to zero.  Is capital thereby made fictitious? No, or yes, but only to the extent that all capital in whatever form represents the conflict between use and exchange, between need and value.

12. The container ship, as a commodity, can only function as capital to the degree that it absorbs labor power, and only to the extent that value is expanded can the container ship pass on, in increments, its own value.  The container ship only functions as capital to the extent that it circulates in the processes of exchange.  It transports itself as a value as it transports the value of its lading.  Then the fullest expression of its exchange value is in the consumption, and the extinguishing, of its use value.

The problem is, for the expanded reproduction of capital, is that the exchange value fixed in the container ship a)reduces the rate of that expanded reproduction and b)cannot "outlive" the use value of the ship.

13. But what about...derivatives, credit default swaps?  What about Exxon vs. Enron?  What about say, Warren Buffett vs. Bernie Madoff?  Differences of degree, quantity,  circumstance, not source, quality, or determination.  And certainly not of negation, abolition, overthrow.   Thirteen's the charm.

S. Artesian
March 27, 2015

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Political Economy of Things

1. Left-Keynesians, Presente!

The bourgeoisie have made a near-science of confusion  They've made a near-art of dressing the confusion in language of profound superficiality.  We know when they're doing it, and they do it all the time.

The near-science,of course, is political economy, or as it is more profoundly anointed, "economic theory."  The near-art, of course, is spin. 

We have "political economists," or more profoundly superficial "economic theorists" spinning ever onward to utopian capitalism where social needs are met by private initiative primarily or public intervention reluctantly,   and public/private partnerships if there's enough money in it for that hero of the bourgeois age, the entrepreneur; where profits continue to grow; the business cycle becomes an event only dimly recalled by the very old; and the assignment, parceling, distribution, of social labor time according to the dictates of value production goes on forever because it's the natural order of...things.

We have economic theorists who prove everything is a question of balance; that all failures are the results of policies improperly balanced; that all success depends on restoring proper balance.  

We have economic theorists spinning hasta la victoria siempre the tale where taxes are paid on time, with the assistance of tourists using their cellphones as body-cams; where budgets are balanced, more or less, by demanding war reparations so the reparations can be used by the country receiving them to meet its obligations on its sovereign debt which is held by the country making the reparations.  Adam Smith shake hands with Mr. last name "Monty."  First and middle?  "Three" and "Card."

We have political economists, excuse me, economic theorists, mashing up the US "New Deal" of the 1930s with the "Marshall Plan" of post WW2, ignoring that the New Deal was a failure except in its fundamental objective which was not economic, but social--namely the tethering of the working class to the destructive force of capitalism, and that the Marshall Plan was the offshoot of that destruction.

Meanwhile of course, we have the same political economist(s) urging the country from whom reparations are being demanded to undertake such a New Marshall Deal Plan as a holy crusade.
We have other economic theorists telling us how important Keynes is for Marxists political economists, excuse me,  Marxist economic theorists when it comes to matters of policy, which, not being a economic theorist, I take to mean matters of fiscal policy, matters of monetary policy, matters of industrial policy, matters of defense policy, matters of labor policy, when the vanguard of political economists, our Keynesevik-academics, our heroic professors, take power and administer the bourgeoisie's "economy" on behalf of the bourgeoisie.

2. Counterrevolution within the counterrevolution

C'est vrai.  Marx's work is not a work of economic theory.  Marx's work does not provide a guide to effective monetary, fiscal, industrial, defense policies when administering the capitalist economy on behalf and in the interests of the bourgeoisie. Capital is a critique of the capitalist organization of production which demonstrates that "economics" as such does not exist.  Economics pretends to be about the production of things; Marx shows that capitalism is all about the reproduction of relations, of the condition of labor

Accumulation of the means of production is accumulation of the means of production as capital, as value maintaining only to the extent that they are value expanding.  Value can be expanded only by "revisiting" its source in the condition of labor itself.

Marx has no interest in designing or divining policies for the administration of "the economy."  The economy does not exist apart from the class relations the compel labor power to be presented for exchange.  The subject of his life's work is the social mediation of the labor process.  His critique of capital determines that capital is a specific, historical, limited mediation.  This specific mediation creates barriers not only to the satisfaction of human needs, but through the  previous successful accumulation of capital, to the continued successful accumulation of capital.

The development of the determination of capital, labor power as value producing, is the development of the negation to capital-- the terms and prospects for its abolition, and not its administration. 

So Capital isn't really concerned with maximizing tax revenues, or stabilizing the inherently unstable relations of exchange among countries.  Capital is not a field guide to selective nationalization of industries,  seizure of "commanding heights," "peoples' banks and banking," "economic growth"-- in that no such growth exists outside the reproduction of a specific condition of labor.

Nor is Marx's work intended to guide "economic theorists" as they consider currency devaluations, arms purchases, or appropriate tactics in trade and other wars.

The point to Marx's work is quite to the contrary: namely, that whatever the policies adapted and adopted may appear to be, intend to accomplish, the policies are merely expressions, more or less imprecise, of capital's need to reproduce the condition of labor as a commodity, as value producing, as wage-labor. 

"Economic theory" is exposed as, and by, class struggle.  The conflict among capitalists, between capitalists, is the business of capitalists and their professional attendants. The overthrow, abolition, replacement of capital is the work of the class which embodies that determinate negation.

"Economics" gives way, in every sense, to history, to historical materialism.

If  you're looking for an investment strategy; if you want to assess the prospects for maintaining a common currency, or  for entering a trade association; if you want to take a position in the markets; if you want to know if you should go long or short on copper, pork bellies, emerging market debt...well all of that presupposes the reproduction of capital.  Political economy, left or right, left and right, recognizes no alternative to capitalism. 

If you're looking for the means to counter the programs and tactics of the bourgeoisie, then those means are found in the "end," in a program for the overthrow capitalism.  The strategies, tactics, actions that are deployed are practical, concrete, realistic  to the degree that they are transitions to the realization of the program, and drive the program to a greater universality-- an elaboration beyond national boundaries that can confront and defeat that "universalizing" impulse of capital itself.

So maybe Marx can't tell the Council of Peoples Commissars of Political Economy  how to collect taxes to pay the troika, but it can tell the Greek workers to repudiate the debt.  That's more than a technical distinction.

3.  And Vice Versa

Greece became the 12th member of the euro zone in 2001. In the years prior to adopting the euro, Greece's annual GDP growth was greater than the euro zone average; its GDP per capita, however, was 30 percent below the zone average.

Throughout the period prior to adopting the euro, when GDP growth rates exceeded that of the currency union as a whole, the Greece's sovereign debt always exceeded 100 percent of the GDP.

In 2001, capitalism in Greece was distinguished by the high ratio of value added in production by the agricultural sector, at 8.9 percent more than triple the rate for euro zone countries as a whole; by the disproportionately elevated role of household consumption in the economy, about 30 percent greater than the zone average, with that consumption concentrated in foodstuffs; a manufacturing sector considerably smaller in relation to GDP than that of the zone; an "under-weighted" (compared to the zone average) financial sector; and an "over-weighted" transport, trade, and communications sector (which includes tourism) accounting for 28.3 percent of the value added in the economy. 

In short, Greece's capitalism was relatively less "developed" than the other euro zone countries.  Ireland and Portugal showed some similarities to Greece in the structure of its economic output, but in both countries, the industrial sector was more significant than in Greece. 

Adoption of the common currency was intended to boost Greek capitalism's "strengths" in transport, trade, and tourism; to enhance the real estate sector, and to boost the financial sector.  That was the "economic" intent.

Developing industry, manufacturing in Greece was never the intent of the Greek bourgeoisie, nor the intent of their EU partners. From 2002 through 2008, the average annual growth rate of the value added by  manufacturing measures less than one-third of one percent.  For industry as a whole, including construction, utilities, and mining, the average annual growth in value added was about 1.5 percent.

The "political intent" of joining the currency union, couched as always in the language of competitiveness, "free markets," rationalization, productivity, etc. etc. etc. was as always to lower the wage floor, reduce pension obligations, eliminate, if possible, subsidies and support for medical care.

That is what makes up the political economy of the common currency and the European Union.   That is the political economy that Syriza insists on preserving.

In order to "qualify" for euro "membership," the Greek government had to demonstrate "fiscal responsibility" and the ability to reduce its deficits.  The Greek government did exactly that, in the time-honored tradition of the bourgeoisie everywhere and all the time.  The government cooked its books.

No big deal, capitalism wouldn't be capitalism without cooking the books.  Everybody cooks their books-- it gives the real meaning to "double entry" bookkeeping, CFOs are supposed to be iron-chefs of book cooking, and if they're not, they're gone.

So Greek governments lied about the operating deficits.  Everyone knew they lied.   Back in 2004, the European Statistical Agency (Eurostat) issued its report, revising the figures for the government deficits as a percentage in GDP.  For 1997, the government's operating deficit was revised up from 4 percent of GDP to 6.6 percent.  For 1998, the figure was revised to 4.3 percent from 2.5 percent, and for 1996, the revision was to 3.4 percent of GDP from 1.8 percent.

A significant element in the original figures was the under reporting of expenditures for military equipment.

Still, Greece's future was evaluated by those paid to do such evaluations, political economists, as rosy, sunny, positive-- with concerns for the future of course, hedging being the perfect expression of political economy.  Said the OECD's Economic Surveys: Greece 2005: 
In terms of real GDP growth, the Greek economy has performed well in recent years and has weathered the international slowdown in activity better than most OECD countries. 
But, there's always a but:
However...this has been achieved at the cost of a sharply widening fiscal deficit and rising public indebtedness.  Hence a major challenge of economic policy will be to rein in government deficits to meet European obligations and to prepare for the spending pressures that will start emerging after 2015 [!] arising from an ageing population and an actuarially unsound and unreformed public pension system.  The growing cost of the public health system...
Get the picture? Among the other recommendations, the OECD recommended:
(i)mobilising the existing large reserves of labour inputs through comprehensive labour market reforms...
Translation:  lower the wage floor by eliminating minimum wage requirements, permitting greater use of "temporary workers."
(ii)keeping productivity growth at a high level over a long period... through the removal of...government control in the economic process and the establishment of a competition culture in product markets
Translation: remove job protections, work safety rules, and environmental restrictions.

These elements, of course, have always been the back story to the glorious dream of an European Union, and the adoption of the common currency.

In its 2007 Economic Survey, the OECD wrote:
Over the past decade, Greece has progressed rapidly in closing the income gap with the best performing economies, particularly once the recent 26% upward revision to the level of GDP is taken into account.  This data revision is largely the result of improved measurement of the fast-growing services sector, while, contrary to many press headlines, the contribution from illegal activities was less than 1% of GDP.  A full assessment of growth performance is difficult..., but it is likely that growth in GDP per capita over the past decade has exceeded 4.5 per cent per annum, which would rank Greece second highest (after Ireland) in the OECD.
But, and there's always a but:
While the short-run prospects remain good, sustaining robust growth over the longer term will necessitate further market reforms..
 --removing the financial disincentives to work at older ages which are inherent in the pension system while constraining the possibilities for early retirement.
--reducing the minimum cost of labour by introducing the sub-minimum wage for you people and lowering the social security contributions for the low-paid.
--reforming employment protection legislation.  In particular re-balancing employment protection across different occupations.
--reducing barriers to entry and promoting competition in network industries. 
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?  Still, in its 2009 survey OECD was optimistic in its assessment:
Greece has initially held up better during the global economic crisis than many other OECD countries.  It is unlikely, however, to avoid a recession as confidence, tourism and shipping receipts have all fallen substantially.  The financial sector may face pressures from a contracting real estate sector and its exposure to the emerging economies of south-eastern Europe.  The authorities have responded with fiscal measures and a plan to assist the financial sector.  However, their room for policy manoeuvre is tightly restricted by the high public debt, repeated fiscal slippages and the large external and internal imbalances, which have been reflected in high sovereign interest-rate spreads since the end of 2008 as risk aversion rose.
Short version:  the trade, transport, communications, and tourism sector, which is overweighted in the Greek economy just had the snot knocked out of it.  Real estate construction, which accounted for the high level of fixed capital formation is contracting.  But things could be worse.... and will be.

The European Union to which Syriza swears its allegiance is not a "European Union" no more than NAFTA is "North America."   Both are mechanisms for increasing the exploitation of labor.  There is no more reason to participate in an union of the European bourgeoisie than there is to participate in a government with a national bourgeoisie.

4.  Deja vu all over again; it's the song, not the singer; come here often?

From The New York Times, September 30, 1981:
Public opinion polls suggest that Greece will turn left in the general elections of Oct. 18 and install the Socialist leader Andreas Papandreou in power.
Mr. Papandreou a former professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley predicts victory this time with more than 50 percent of the vote and promises "reforms which the country has not experienced since Greek independence in 1821."
He continues to say that it is "preposterous" for Greece to belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization...
But sources close to him maintain that Mr. Papandreou has decided, if elected, not to move quickly to pull Greece out of NATO or close down the four American bases in the country.  They say that he is wary of possible displeasure in the military...and that he realizes there is no easy alternative source of arms supplies. 
They also say he has abandoned earlier plans to seek the outright withdrawal of Greece from the European Economic Community and has decided to move instead for a renegotiated special relationship or a referendum on Greek membership. 
From The New York Times, October 11, 1981:
On the balcony however, Mr. Papandreou, a seasoned crowd pleaser, skips over such subjects and instead concentrates on excoriating NATO, the American bases in Greece, and his country's entry into the Common Market 10 months ago.  His audiences assume that Mr. Papandreou means to disengage Greece from these involvements but when closely question, he is circumspect.
From The New York Times, November 22, 1981:
Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou will present his Socialist Government's program to Parliament on Sunday in a speech that could clarify Greece's position on key foreign policy issues such as a possible withdrawal from NATO and the European Common Market...
"Tomorrow's  policy speech will prove that Pasok is not abandoning any of its declared positions in the economy, foreign policy sectors," the official government spokesman, Dimitrious Maroudas, said today in a briefing for the Greek press.
From The New York Times, December 14, 1981:
Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou announced a series of economic measures tonight that he said would help ease the financial burden of lower income groups in Greece and revive the country's flagging economy.
At the same time, he announce prices increases for gasoline, heating oil, water, and telephone rates. 
From The New York Times, March 7, 1982:
Greece's Socialist Government, which swept into power last October with a program for socialization and neutralism, has preferred pragmatic economic recovery measures to striking out on revolutionary paths.
There is no more talk here of ambitious nationalization plans or walking out of the European Economic Community.  Instead, the Government is working on a favorable investment law, aid to ailing enterprises, support for farm cooperatives, decentralization and demands for better treatment from Common Market Partners.
Responding to...opposition comments, an official said the Socialists had noted before gaining power that the economy was in bad shape.  He said, however, that they "didn't know how bad things were."  He cited  "tax evasion, capital outflow, commissions" as the key problems.
Government sources also cited a dip in shipping revenues, saying it was caused primarily by a worldwide shipping crisis.

What was it Jimmy Ruffin sang?  No, not "What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted?" but "I've Passed This Way Before."

March 17, 2015

Saturday, March 14, 2015


Help needed: Conducting research for book, working title A Government of the Political Economists, by the Political Economists, and for the Political Economists  

Is there any individual who is a member of the Syriza Central Committee and not at some time in the past or currently, a professor of political economy?

Please contact me by email at

March 14, 2015

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Shorty Long of It

1.  The Short

--Submit the "reform package" agreed to by Syriza government to the parliament for a vote
--No to the "reform package" agreed to by the Syriza ministers
--No confidence in the Syriza government
--Repudiate the debt, the MFFA, and the reforms in their entirety.

2. The Long

Somewhere along the curve of the universe that is this space-time continuum, Alexander Pope runs into Hungry Joe, King of the Bunco men.  The result of that heroic couplet is a grade A, class 1 mash up of cosmic proportions that goes like this:  Hope springs eternal in the human breast because there's a sucker born every minute. 

No sooner does the Syriza government reverse its "policy" regarding the extension of and compliance with the 2012 agreement and its so-called reforms, than our eternalists take hope from the very bleakness of the situation.  Syriza has "bought time."  To do what, exactly?

The victory/defeat won by the government has a "due by" date of four months.  At the end of four months....

At the end of four months, the final tranche(s) of the bailout money is, or is not, released to the government, and the money, except for €8.2 billion held by the IMF for distribution through 2015-2016 is... gone.  Vanished, disappeared, gone.   The "reforms" however, like the debt, are supposed to last forever, and at €317 billion, the debt is pretty certain to last forever-- or  until it is abolished.

So the eternalists, despite all noises made to the contrary, despite the "emphatic statements" of Prime Minister Tsirpas  are, more or less, committed to yet another bailout, because, much more than less, none of the "reforms" will generate sufficient cash flow to sustain the government. Without the guarantee of the guarantors-- the ECB, the IMF, and the European Commission-- the international credit markets, having been compelled to submit to one Greek haircut earlier, aren't about to Sweeney Todd themselves one more time. At least not without charging an interest rate that factors in the price of the haircut and thus consumes more of the meager cash flowing to the government.

Now the "reform package" that is supposed to revive the cash flows and make Greece's sovereign debt instruments marketable requires devaluation, deflation, liquidation of government assets and government obligations.  This liquidation is in direct contradiction with the generation of taxable revenues for the government. 

Much has been made in the press, by the Eurogroup, the IMF, and the Syriza ministers about tax evaders but the fact is that much of the lost tax revenue is lost from people who are too poor, not too rich, to pay taxes.  Nothing in the reform package remedies the raging poverty in Greece.

More revenue is lost as those companies providing basic services on a contract basis to the government  have not been paid, and can no longer provide the service (in particular in the health care sector).  

There is no solution to the predicament of Greece based on the reforms, the current bailout, or future bailouts that preserve the debt.  Yanis Varoufakis, when questioned about a scheduled debt repayment due the IMF at the end of this month said he was prepared to "squeeze blood from a stone" to meet that obligation.  The problem is of course that stones can't bleed; and human beings aren't rocks. 

3. Function: Hungry Joe meets the Alexander Papists

Some take heart from the apparent dissent of Syria's left wing, "The Left Platform," from the reform package.  The depth of the dissent is supposedly great enough that 40% of the Syriza representatives in parliament oppose the reform package. An "amendment" (amending what?) expressing that dissent states:
In the immediate future, SYRIZA, despite the agreements of the Eurogroup should take the initiative of implementing steadily and as a matter of priority its commitments and the content of its programmatic governmental statement.
To go down that road, we have to rely on workers' and popular struggles, to contribute to their revitalization, and to the continuous expansion of popular support in order to resist any form of blackmail and promote the perspective of an alternative plan promoting the full realization of our radical objections.
The main conclusion of the latest developments is the necessity, which is of decisive importance for the course we will follow, that decisions should be taken following a discussion in the leading party instances, which have, jointly with the party and the party branches as a whole, to upgrade their function and play a leading role in the new progressive course of our country.  
Of course, the fact that the "Left Platform" wants these discussions to be confined to the party organization; that these discussions are not conducted "outside" the party structure, in public, and on the floor of the parliament, means that this bloc regards the "workers' and popular struggles" as an adjunct to Syriza, as a "pressure group" rather than the means and ends for a class that must organize itself to take power.

4.  Junction

The inflection point, the moment of transition, for the class struggle in Greece is the emergence of working class organs of dual power.

The strategy for advancing to that transition point is to deprive the institutions of bourgeois power; the parties; the ministers; the parliament of the support of the workers.

The tactic critical to that strategy is to demand the presentation of the package to the parliament for approval/rejection.

--Submit the "reform package" agreed to by Syriza government to the parliament for a vote
--No to the "reform package" agreed to by the Syriza ministers
--No confidence in the Syriza government
--Repudiate the debt, the MFFA, and the reforms in their entirety.

March 5, 2015