Saturday, July 24, 2004

The American Plan

Time  was, not so long ago,  when the decline of the dollar was seen as the end of  "US hegemony," and the re-ascent of Europe, as if there ever had been, or is, an unified entity called "Europe."   The dollar's depreciation was supposed to be an indication of Europe's, as if there ever was single economic unit called "Europe," emerging rivalry, more than rivalry, superiority, to the US's capitalism.
"This is it," lip-synched the Eurozone countries at the Eurovision sing-offs.  "The US has met it's Waterloo," they mimed to ABBA's 1974 winning performance of a previous decade when "Europe" was supposed to supplant the US.   Current account deficits, trade imbalances,  bloated military budgets,  Asia's holdings of dollar-denominated instruments, were  different verses of the song that said, in German, French, Italian, Spanish, "Hit the Road, Jack."  
Of course, no such emerging superiority to , displacement of, the US has occurred, will occur.  The tune that was sung never made it to top of the pops, it was never even number 2 with a bullet.  It wasn't a new song at all, but a cover, and a bad cover, of that old tune of Europe's, mercantilism. 
Dollar up, dollar down, it's not about gold in or out, or trade balances high or plus or minus.  It, capitalism, is about the expropriation of time, of labor time, and the conversion of labor time into profit.  In this, the US was and is number one, and number one because the US ruling class is number one at transferring the burden of aggrandizing ever more surplus labor time onto the working class itself-- by in fact expelling more and more labor from the productive process, and working the remaining labor harder and longer.  
Far from replacing the US as the heart and soul,  that is to say the wallet, of capital,  the bourgeoisie of countries that imagine themselves as "Europe" have taken to the American plan--  transfer the burden of reproduction, social and private, to the workers.  And that transfer, as are all transfers, is about time and money.
Britain, which imagines itself not now, not ever,  part of Europe, went over to the American plan some years ago,  beginning with the Labor government of Dennis Callaghan.  That plan was somewhat Latin American  as it gave way to, and paved the way for, Margaret Thatcher's  years as the Queen's Pinochet.   Still, the elements of the plan are universal to the universe of capital-- 1. reduce the costs of production by dismantling industrial assets ;  1a. reduce the costs of social reproduction by eliminating or selling-off systems of health-care, transportation, public education.  2. eliminate work rule protections against the expropriation of  labor power;   2a. eliminate social protections against discrimination.  3. reduce wage rates through unemployment; 3a. redistribute wealth from the poor to the richer.    

This time around,  the countries that imagine themselves to be "Europe," couch their worries, fears, and attacks in the language of  "productivity," and "productivity gaps."  Whenever the bourgeoisie says "productivity," it means to say "profits."  So the abyss is not so much in productivity, output per hour, or less accurately, GDP per employed person, but in profit. 

Eurozone GDP per person employed actually exceeded that of the US for 5 out of 6 years between 1990 and 1995.  Beginning with the massive semiconductor overproduction of 1996, continuing with the 1997-1998 Asian/Russian financial crisis, the 1999 OPEC price increases, the 2001 economic hard landing/tax cut on the twin towers,  and the 2002-2003-2004 war/terrorism/scarcity/tax cut  Without End Amen program, US "productivity" has far outpaced the Eurozone's.  

Or did it?  Between 1970 and 2002,  US hours worked per employee increased 20 percent while the same measure for declined 17 percent for Japan and 24 percent for France.  This in turn reflects the rapid growth of women's participation in the US labor force, and the lower wages paid to women.

Measuring productivity as output per employee obscures the fundamental issue for capital, which is the aggrandizement of surplus labor time.    While the EU 2000 measure of output per employee was just 70 percent of the US measure, output per employee hour was 91 percent of the US measure (OECD figures).   Output per employee hour in France is actually 105 percent of US levels.

"Europe" has looked around and realized "to be like Mike," like the US, to be united, it needs a Mexico, a Guatemala, a Dominican Republic, not to mention a Panama.  And having incorporated several former Comecon-Soviet countries, it has one.  Or several.  It is with that leverage that the bourgeoisie of Italy, France, Spain, Germany launch their assault on labor time.  In part, the attack upon labor time is the bourgeois orders' redemption of the "peace dividend" distributed after the collapse of the USSR.  

Siemens has extended the work week from 35-40 hours with no increase in pay.  Bosch, after reducing wages and extending hours in Stuttgart, has won an increased work week in France.  DaimlerChrysler has made another inroad against rules limiting work time.  Pension panic, another version of terror/scarcity economics is promulgated in Italy, Germany, France, Spain.  In the assault on pensions, break periods, work rules, work week, the bourgeoisie are united as a class, not a country, by the need to convert all labor time into work time, into extended surplus labor time.  And that is what made America great.  After slavery. 

S. Artesian  072404


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