Tuesday, January 20, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

My fellow Americans:

Sometimes, you just have to cut the crap about faith and hope and progress and this land being your land and the perfectability of man and the enormous potential of clean coal and just spit it out, with the emphasis on the spit. Word.

As a species we distinguish ourselves through-- besides our eagerness to kill so many unknown, unencountered, unthreatening members of our own species-- our affliction with addictions and our addiction to afflictions. Word.

Nothing gives us more pleasure than satisfying our own addictions, but seeing some poor sot suffering miserably, unable to satisfy his or hers comes in a close second. Word.

We are not only participants we are observers... and from a distance, what is easier, more interesting, diverting, riveting, than seeing others like- but not- us suffering endlessly, miserable in the grips of.... whatever. Who really cares? Now that's entertainment. Word.

From a distance, I mean. Distance being the critical word. Word. As in don't come too close; do not touch; keep off the grass; God forbid we should get any of that, of them on us. You know what I mean? I know you know what I mean.

Speaking of god-- there isn't one, or two, or many, but god is, and is all powerful because god is affliction and addiction all rolled up into one... the Big One, the Universal One, the All of Us One... which accounts for all the violence associated with religion. It makes no sense, ergo let's go out and kill. God bless you.

It, religion, is us at our best, inflicting ourselves on each other, complete with afflictions and addictions, and getting some of us on each of us in the name of god. Word. Oh happy, and holy, day. Oh most perfect, supreme, sanctified anti-species being.

That's how I see it. Of course, I also think that history is a play acted by fools for the enjoyment of cynics. And vice-versa. Waiting for Godot? And what about Godot? What's he waiting for? And why is he delayed? They pretend Godot is going or coming, but can't tell which, and he plays along by pretending to even exist.

Pretending, pretense.... pretension. That's another one of our distinguishing characteristics, along with species slaughter, and addiction.

Speaking of species, this is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and Darwin never said evolution was smart, or progressive, or better-- just that it is adaptive. Evolution, unlike god, really is and like god, is mindless, bloody, ignorant and often a mistake. But tough to stop.

That's something else we are, adaptive. We can move our afflictions and our addictions and our anti-species being species all over the globe and soon enough other planets, which for their own sake should be more than uninhabitable, they need to be downright hostile so that we will move on with our afflictions and addictions, gods, history, drama, evolution, needs, and leave them peacefully barren.

So there you have it. And so do I. Please don't think that I hold myself apart, exempt myself from this dismal science that is we, us, you, me... humanity.

Speaking of humanity, what was it the radio announcer said, collapsing in tears as the Hindenburg lit itself up over New Jersey-- "Oh the humanity"? Right. Oh the humanity, ladies and gentlemen. Which is why we thrill to watching that particular piece of newsreel time and time again, wondering about the humanity trapped in that furnace. Give us the spectacular "accident," and we're plowing through the Kleenex like disappointed heirs at the reading of a will. But as for the daily, programmed murder that makes up our waking hours.... whatever. Word.

Anyway that's it. That's you and me and us and we. And that's why, right now, I've got to stop-- take a time out, attend to my addiction to affliction and vice-versa, cooking up this little dose of brown powder that came all the way from Afghanistan, and synching up the podcasts I have of the Jerry Springer show. Don't get too close, I wouldn't want to get any of me on you. Word.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Not Just, Just Not 2

4. The petroleum industry gives capitalism, in all its petty victories and melodramatic setbacks, its most acute presentation. In its accumulation of capital, its expansion of its property, the industry amasses a machinery of extraction, an asset base, a net property, plant, and equipment, that measures its efficiency in the reduced, now relatively, then absolutely, quantities of wage-labor required to animate the physical plant. In its development, then, the petroleum industry confronts the predicament of capital in a hard way-- the more of its capital it accumulates, the more capital it exchanges with wage labor, the less relatively of itself has in fact been exchanged with wage labor, and the lower the rate of accumulation becomes.

In 2006, the net PPE of the FRS companies was valued at $666.9 billion. In 2007, the value of the PPE increased 4.5 percent to $697 billion. For US manufacturing as a whole, the values were $1217.7 billion and $1229 billion respectively, giving the FRS companies an asset share of about 56 percent of the total US PPE.

This massive fixed investment is animated by a labor force, and a "wage-bill" dramatically smaller than the labor force and wage-bill for US manufacturing.

The number of production workers, adjusted for those self-employed in the petroleum industry, has increased from approximately 111, 000 in 2004 to 127, 000 in 2007. At the same time, the wage-bill for the petroleum [unadjusted] has increased from approximately $13.2 billion to $19.2 billion.

During this same period, production worker numbers in manufacturing, adjusted for self-employment declined from 14.1 million to 13.7 million. The wage-bill in manufacturing [unadjusted] climbed at a considerably lower rate, from $704.4 billion to $746 billion.

With a wage-bill equal to less than 3% of that of manufacturing, the petroleum industry is able to animate property, plant and equipment with a value equal to half of that total value for manufacturing.

It is this, this incredible increased/diminished exchange, this PPE "overweight" in relation to wages, rather than the utility of oil, that gives the petroleum industry its specific gravity, its determinant quality for capitalism as a whole.

5. With this massive accumulation of industrial plant, the "super-productivity of labor, the costs of production and reproduction of the unit quantities of oil are driven to a near-absolute minimum, including in the areas of "difficulty" like the North Sea. The petroleum industry engages in a battle against the enemy that is both itself and the shadow of itself, a declining rate of return. The industry must seek, by hook, crook, line, and sinker, offsets to this decline. Seek and find it does, utilizing market, cartel, and state mechanisms to alter the unit price above the cost of production, and above the price of production, effectively, transferring profit from all other industries to itself.

6. The increased capital investments from 1992-2000 drove the rate of return on investment for capitalism as a whole up and then into decline, leading to the recession of 2001-2003.

The US bourgeoisie, knowing better than some that overproduction is not underconsumption, that overproduction is exactly as Marx described it-- an overproduction of the means of production of capital unable to exploit labor at a sufficient intensity-- built the recovery of 2003 on basis of reduced capital spending, reduced rates of expansion of the means of production, accumulation of capital as money to be hoarded, or distributed to executives, owners, investors, in a word to its classmates, and of course, control of wage rates.

The asset-backed securitization that swept through the US economy during this period was in fact derivative of the restraint on investment and accumulation maintained in the industrial sector.

Indeed, in 2002, 2003, 2004 capital spending was below the values claimed for depreciation and capital consumption of property, plant, and equipment. In the third-quarter of 2001, net PPE for US manufacturing was measured at $1180 billion. A year later, that figure had declined to $1173 billion. By the third-quarter of 2003, the value was $1142 billion, and by the third-quarter 2004, $1101 billion, equal to the net value of PPE in 1999.

While operating income did recover, something else recovered even more for US manufacturing-- and that was recurring income from non-operating sources. These non-operating sources include interest payments, dividends, royalties, earning from minority interests in other businesses. Prior to the recession of 2001, these revenue streams were about 33 to 40 percent of the amounts for operating earnings. However, after 2004, the size of all other income from non-operating sources increases to 50, then 60, and 70-75 percent of the amount for operating earnings, and accounts for almost 40 percent of total income. The US bourgeoisie was earning its money the old-fashioned way-- by making others work productively for it.

At the same time cash, US government securities, and other securities held by US manufacturing companies increased 50 percent from 2003 levels, peaking in the 4th quarter 2007 at $454 billion.

It was a closed fist policy of US manufacturing between 2002 and 2005 , building its cash hoard, investing in stock buybacks, awarding dividends. The FRS companies, awash in cash, averaged $37 billion in stock buybacks in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, dedicating in those 4 years a sum almost about 45 percent greater than the total spent for the 17 years prior.

This closed fist, clasped hand policy created the open palm policy of the investment and commercial banks, the mortgage financing agencies, and the thrift institutions. The only revenue streams that the financiers could tap, that they could attack and divert, were those based on wages and salaries, on the personal income of those working and poor, working and not so poor.

7. The "discipline," in reality deprivation, that the bourgeoisie practiced upon capital spending and fixed assets, it practiced also on the wage portion of capital's identity. By 2003, the manufacturing wage bill had declined 6 percent from its 2001 level. In 2006, the total wage outlay finally surpassed the 2001 mark. By 2007, the manufacturing wage bill was 6 percent above the 2001 mark.

The wage-bill for the petroleum industry shrank also during those glory years of 2003-2006, with the hourly wage dropping 9 percent between 2001 and 2004, before recovering in 2005. In 2007, the industry's average hourly wage was 20 percent above its 2001 level.

In 2005, the petroleum industry resumed its capital expenditures. Unlike the wave of consolidations and mergers that had swept the industry earlier, a major portion of this spending was on actual actual exploration and development. In 2006, capital spending was a record high $200 million dollars. In 2007, while overall capital spending declined from its 2006 peak, development and exploration expenditures exceeded the 2006 level. What did the FRS companies buy with this money? Real estate. Expenditures on proven and unproven acreage in the US soared in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Total exploration and development expenditures in the US doubled between 2005 and 2006. FRS companies' acquisition of proven acreage outside the US also increased in 2006, but not nearly as dramatically.

So if overproduction is, and is always, the overproduction of the means of production as capital, unable to exploit sufficient quantities of labor at a required intensity, the petroleum industry overproduced itself by the book, the book being Capital, Vol 3, as both wage-rates and increases in net property, plant, and equipment took the "sufficient" out of profitability.

The dramatic contraction in the price of oil is, of course, just the market's way of reflecting the declining profitability, and the failure of all the mechanisms-- war, cartel, government-- to offset the decline.

The dramatic contraction in industrial output worldwide, is more than just the market's way of reflecting that decline on an international scale. The contraction means that the bourgeoisie in order to repair profitability must attack the accumulated means of production, devaluing and destroying fixed assets and physical plant, and attack the workers resistance to wage cuts, diminished standards of living, deprivation, and dispossession. Accumulation for capital never stops being primitive.

S. Artesian

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Thursday, January 08, 2009


1. When Marx wrote in Capital, Volume 1 that "capital comes [into the world] dripping from head to foot with blood and dirt," he wasn't kidding. He wasn't just using a particularly rich metaphor to identify the brutality at the core of the "free" economy. He was not simply capturing in a single phrase the vicious venality of the bourgeoisie.

Marx was first and foremost describing the actual historical process that changed, and changes, the means of subsistence, the means of production, and human labor from quantities into specific qualities, from objects, articles, attributes to conditions and relations. Marx was describing the history of the transformation of land, production, and labor into the interpenetrating relationship of capital and wage-labor.

It is this immediate, enduring, opposite identity of capital and wage-labor that forms the not very secret secret of "primitive accumulation." It is the the expanded exchange of capital with wage-labor that is whispered in every market, and in all capitalist accumulation. .

Capitalism never rids itself of its primitive origins. It does not, and cannot, "clean up well." Expropriation and dispossession are its core. It embeds a little bit of primitive accumulation in every commodity produced, in every one of its billions of exchanges, in every cent of profit so realized.

As it expands, capital's ability to create enough of that profit quickly enough changes. Those very increases in accumulated capital become, sooner rather than later, incapable of sustaining continued expansion. The dollars and euros and yen that gushed from the markets disappear. Barely a penny is spat out where rivers of liquidity once flowed. But the conditions of production have not changed-- capital remains capital, and exchanges with labor that remains wage-labor. And if the conditions have not changed, then capital's ebb flow, its expansion and contraction, must be the product of the changes in the quantities of wage-labor and capital, and the change in the relationship of those quantities. In its contraction realizes the truth of the secret of its expansion-- overproduction, the overproduction of the means of production as capital once able now unable to exploit a sufficient quantity of wage-labor at a sufficient intensity. The means of production have come into conflict with their own conditions, with the social relations of production, with the ownership of production as a private property.

2. The importance of oil to "modern" society is no secret at all. While manufacturing and industry have managed to reduce the amount of oil required for the production of each unit, each commodity, the expansion of production requires increased inputs of energy. Transportation likewise can reduce its oil consumption per unit of value hauled but it cannot change the fact that petroleum provides 98 percent of the energy used in transportation. Circulation sweats money from every pore, as Marx wrote, but oil provides the heat.

The importance of oil in manufacturing, transportation, energy production-- these things are the useful values of oil. These physical attributes however are nothing more than the mule, the pack animal, carrying the conditions for the production of oil, the exchange value, into the markets for the bourgeoisie.

Since 1973, every critical juncture in this miserable, dreary saga of "modern" capitalism has been announced, concluded, and foreclosed upon with a dramatic change in the price of oil. The OPEC price spikes of 1973 and 1979; the price decline of 1986 that finally brought the Soviet Union to ground; the run-up to the first Gulf War, with prices reaching $40 per barrel; the collapse of 1998 with prices sinking below $10 per barrel; OPEC's "third time is the charm" production cuts, triggering the doubling and tripling of prices; the price collapse of 2002, signaling that it was past time for another Gulf War; the speculative blow-off and then price implosion of 2007-2008-- all are different chapters to the same book where every line begins with the word "overproduction."

Capital comes into the world dripping blood and dirt from head to foot, but everywhere it steps, it leaves its hydrocarbon footprint. Everywhere it rest its head, it leaves a greasy stain.

3. It is the condition of the production of oil, and not the qualities of the oil itself, that makes the petroleum industry so dominant, so acute to the conditions of capital accumulation as a whole. It is the relationship between the massive capital apparatus of the industry and the wage-labor required to animate that apparatus that makes the petroleum industry so much more than representative of capitalism as a whole.

In 2007, according to the US Energy Information Agency's (EIA) Performance Profiles of Major Energy Producers, US petroleum companies participating in its Financial Reporting System (FRS) reported their first decline in net income after three successive years of record earnings in 2004, 2005, and 2006. The companies participating in the FRS account for approximately 41 percent of the petroleum, natural gas liquids, and natural gas production of US companies. Net income in 2007 declined 8 percent from the 2006 mark to 125 billion dollars. This "reduced" net income was still the third highest amount recorded in the history of the industry.

For the first time since 2002, operating expenses grew at a rate faster than revenues.

More significantly, and most representatively of the predicament of capital, the return on investment, which the is defined as the ratio of net income to net property, plant and equipment (PPE) declined to 17 percent from the 2006 rate of 21 percent.

This ratio, the rate of return on investment, is, if not everything to capital, pretty close to everything for capital. It measures nothing other than the condition of capital; it's success at being itself, which is to say, its success at successfully exploiting wage-labor at a sufficient intensity; which is to say, its success at increased accumulation; which is to say its ability at reproducing itself, its power, its property.

So if the ratio of net income to net plant, property, and equipment is critical to the petroleum industry, then the ratio of the petroleum industry's net operating income to the total net income for all of US manufacturing, and the ratio of the petroleum industry's net property, plant, and equipment to that of all of US manufacturing is critical for measuring the importance of the petroleum industry to all of capital as value accreting. These ratios capture the specific gravity, the weight, of the petroleum industry in the system of capitalist reproduction and provide an index to the overall conditions of capital.

So... so for 2006, the operating income for the FRS companies was $199.4 billion, and the operating income for all US manufacturing was $420.5 billlion; in 2007, operating income for the FRS companies was $173.6 billion, and for US manufacturing $413.5 billion. Net income, after taxes and consolidating other sources of income, for FRS companies in 2006 and 2007 measured $134.9 billion and $124.8 billion respectively. For US manufacturing companies, the numbers were $487.0 billion and $436.8 billion.

Clearly, the FRS companies capture a significant portion of the realized profits of all capitalist production, garnering 47 percent of all manufacturing operating earnings in 2006, 42 percent in 2007. Just as significantly, the FRS portion of total net income declines, registering approximately 28 percent of the total in each year.

The tendency of US manufacturing companies to generate signifcant portions of net income from sources other than operations is why this analysis, why this decade is not just all about the oil.

Next: Not Just, 2

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