Thursday, January 02, 2014

Firm Demand

1.  Wish I had written it:
 Financial Times, 7 November 2013:  Shares in Karex, a Malaysian company that is the world's largest maker of condoms have surged more than 30 percent on their debut on the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange amid forecasts of firm global demand for contraceptive products.
2.  Marx, considering the disintegration of the Ricardian school in Chapter 20 of his Theories of Surplus Value (Part 3, page 119, Progress Publishers, 1971) remarks: 
The same value can be embodied in very different quantities [of commodities].  But the use-value—consumption—depends not on value, but on the quantity.  It is quite unintelligible why I should buy six knives because I can get them for the same price that I previously paid for one.
It's unintelligible that a reduction in price should expand the demand for a commodity here, in Chapter 20, but it wasn't so unintelligible to Marx in Part 2 of Theories of Surplus Value when refuting those political economists claiming that there can be overproduction of particular commodities but no general overproduction,  he wrote:
Crises are usually preceded by a general inflation in prices of all articles of capitalist production.  All of them therefore participate in the subsequent crash and at their former prices they cause a glut in the the market.  The market can absorb a larger volume of commodities at falling prices, at prices which have fallen below their cost-prices, than it could absorb at their former prices.  The excess of commodities is always relative; in other words it is an excess at particular prices.  The prices at which the commodities are then absorbed are ruinous for the producer or the merchant.  (Part 2, Page 505).
It's not quite so unintelligible if we recall what Marx wrote in Part 2, on page 485:
It seems therefore, that for accumulation to take place, continuous surplus   production in all spheres is necessary.
And what he wrote on page 495:
It  must never be forgotten, that in capitalist production what matters is not immediate use-value but the exchange-value and, in particular, the expansion of surplus-value.
Marx here is focused on the potential for overproduction that exists in the organization of production for value.  Yet, this very process, the production of six knives for the price (value) originally required for the purchase of one knife, is exactly the process that identifies capital's expansion, it's accumulation of the means of production as values, as value-extracting commodities, that confirms the  real domination of capital over labor, the ascendancy of relative surplus value.  What appears as a moment in capitalist production is in fact a necessity for the totality of capitalist reproduction

The totality is the organic, structured, essential antagonist identity of accumulation with devaluation.  The universe of capital cannot expand, cannot accumulate, without the devaluation of its parts.

3. There's a bit of ambiguity in Marx's treatment of overproduction in these critiques of the the theories of surplus value.  Is consumption the limit to capitalist production?  Is the truth of overproduction in the separation, the disassociation, of the extraction of surplus value from the realization of surplus value? Well, yes and no, actually inclinations towards yes, and inclinations towards no.  For all his criticism, and correctly so, of those who think "dialectic" means, "on the one hand...while on the other hand," Marx himself does a whole lot of "on the one hand, while on the other hand."  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Ambiguity is a signature human characteristic, evident whenever humans aren't exercising their talent for self-contradiction.

Anyway, the ambiguity in this matter is derived from Marx's treatment of the market as representing a quantity, a sum, a near fixed number, known as demand when in fact Marx had established the framework for apprehending the "market" as a social relation for the reproduction of classes, where the quantities of goods, and their successful circulation, are reflections of a) "improved" rates of exploitation of labor b) the ability to expand that exchange-relation fundamental to all other exchanges,  the exchange between the means of production organized as capital, as private property, with human labor power organized as wage-labor.

That relation has to increase not only in its breadth, extensively, but also in its intensity, and for that to occur, the expansion requires the expulsion of wage-labor from the production process, relatively, but as in all things capitalism, relatively becomes absolutely.

As this occurs, as the proportions of exchange are altered between  capital and wage-labor, the increased aggrandizement of surplus-value is achieved, made manifest, in transfer of value from less efficient, less intensive capitals to these vanguards of exploitation.   On the one hand, accumulation; while on the other hand, devaluation?  Yes, no, maybe, and you can sue me.  Actually, it's not on the one hand, or on the other, it's at one and the same time.  These processes are coincident, co-determined, co-dependent.

The market is not a "thing"-- a sum total of "demand," a fixed quantity of buyers and sellers, of things to be bought and sold,  but an arena for working out these processes of allocation, alteration, transference; of accumulation and devaluation.

So what?  So this-- it's not about me purchasing six knives because the six now embody the value of one.  It's about a) what conditions are required for the production of the six at the value previously embodied in one  b) how those conditions are achieved  c) what portion of those six, or 600,000, or 6,000,000, which in the selling, serve to transfer the previously accumulated value, thus devaluing the previous knives and knife-makers.

"Demand" is a social condition.  It's very existence assumes, presumes, the market, where consumption as such does not occur outside the exchange of  the objects of labor.  The capitalist market is one of dispossession; where satisfaction of need is impossible on the basis of individual labor-- and on the buying or selling of  one knife.  For the knife, or knives, to be sold, requires the organization and reorganization of society,  that is to say the condition of labor,  such that labor power is useless, destitute, without exchange. 

4.  Accumulation is "prompted" by the technical innovation of the production process.  This innovation assumes an identity with the value process, transferring previously accumulated value and expanding exchange-- what's called economic growth-- until such time that the technical innovation becomes widespread, the new normal, and thus depresses its own transformation into the value process.  In short, overproduction and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall are integral to each other.

So what?  Again?   Well, at least to me, this means that capital doesn't require "outside sources" of "demand," but rather "effective demand" requires that specific form of exchange with labor power at the origin of  the capitalist market.  It means that so-called "primitive accumulation" occurs throughout every moment of capitalism and that primitive accumulation is not so-much about looting or plundering (although looting and plundering are constant preoccupations for our brave hedge-fund managers) as in the fact that looting and plundering enforces the destitution upon labor necessary to convert it into wage-labor.  `

It means that the "obstacle" or "barrier" to  is not some iteration of "monopoly" or "finance" or "oligarch" or "rentier" capitalism, but rather the inability of capital to exploit labor-power intensely and extensively enough to offset the tendency of profitability to decline because it is exactly the intensive and extensive exploitation of labor power that is the tendency of the rate of profit to decline.

It means that capital, which requires access to labor-power, finds the "solution" to contraction, recession, not simply in the passage of time, not simply in the lowering of prices, but in the radical devaluation in labor-power-- necessarily attempting to drive the wage of wage-labor below the cost of labor power's reproduction

January 2, 2014