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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

THE MORNING AFTER

Well, it was about as bad as it could be, and now I shall have to come to terms with being represented in the United States Senate by the likes of Thom Tillis until I am eighty-six at the least.  I am sure I have done some things during my long life for which I deserve to be reproached, but this seems like cruel and unusual punishment for them. 

Whom to blame for last night's debacle?  The answer is obvious: the American people, those who voted, and the much larger number who chose not to vote.  Democracy has its flaws, as the author of In Defense of Anarchism can attest, but it does have one great feature:  If enough of the poor, exploited, and down-trodden get together, they can in fact change who controls the State and what the State does.  I have no doubt that the voter suppression schemes of the Republicans have made a difference, but they could not have made enough of a difference to stop a determined popular movement to use the vote as a means of social change.  Here in North Carolina, the State Legislature led by the same Thom Tillis eliminated on-campus voting.  This contributed to his victory over Kay Hagan, but only because these bright young UNC students ostensibly engaged in getting a higher education could not be troubled to travel for a few minutes to downtown voting sites.

I had planned today, after my morning walk, to begin the re-reading of Capital Volume One in preparation for my course next semester.  Perhaps that is the best way to put a bad night behind me.

15 comments:

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

℞ Kapital, dosim repetatur....

Magpie said...

Hopefully, this may serve as a little consolation:

Writing for the chartist newspaper The Northern Star, Engels published (September, 1847) a piece titled "The Free Trade Congress at Brussels", containing parts of an ultimately unused "speech of Dr. Marx on Protection, Free Trade, and the Working Classes".

Marx welcomes free trade, not because it will be good for the working class, but...

"... This law, that the lowest level of wages is the natural price of the commodity of labour, will realise itself in the same measure with Ricardo’s supposition that Free Trade will become a reality. We accept every thing that has been said of the advantages of Free Trade. The powers of production will increase, the tax imposed upon the country by protective duties will disappear, all commodities will be sold at a cheaper price. And what, again, says Ricardo? 'That labour being equally a commodity, will equally sell at a cheaper price' — that you will have it for very little money indeed, just as you will have pepper and salt. And then, in the same way as all other laws of political economy will receive an increased force, a surplus of truth, by the realisation of Free Trade — in the same way the law of population, as exposed by Malthus, will under the reign of Free Trade develop itself in as fine dimensions as can possibly be desired. Thus you have to choose: Either you must disavow the whole of political economy as it exists at present, or you must allow that under the freedom of trade the whole severity of the laws of political economy will be applied to the working classes. Is that to say that we are against Free Trade? No, we are for Free Trade, because by Free Trade all economical laws, with their most astounding contradictions, will act upon a larger scale, upon a greater extent of territory, upon the territory of the whole earth; and because from the uniting of all these contradictions into a single group, where they stand face to face, will result the struggle which will itself eventuate in the emancipation of the proletarians."

https://marxists.anu.edu.au/archive/marx/works/1847/09/30.htm

Robert Paul Wolff said...

From your mouth to God's ear! I know it has to get worse before it gets better, but how long, O Lord, how long? Just as Notre Dame took so long to build that the grandsons of those who began the work did not live to pray in it, so I shall not live to see completed what my grandfather worked to create in 1910.

Chris said...

Are you sure Wolff? I was always under the impression that the possible candidates that can and will run are PRE DECIDED by those with the power and capital to do so. It's only after a sorting committee of those in power say "we could live with X, Y, or Z" that then X, Y, and Z become viable candidates, of which the “American people” is now either in a position to vote for or not at all. So I have a hard time blaming ANYONE who doesn't vote, or votes in an alternative way, for being responsible for the elected officials for instance. I rarely vote, because X Y and Z have never represented so much as 10% of my views on issues.

So let's take a very basic case study. An elite group of individuals, and corporate sectors, decided that they could live with Romney, Obama, or a few other Republicans back in 2012. This decision was made OUTSIDE OF my personal control, or even capable influence. After that decision was made, I, as a regular American citizen had the choice to vote for a series of candidates that REPRESENT a sector of the population other than the more general "american people". I could vote for Obama, who doesn't represent me, or Romney and some other republicans who don't represent me, but it's literally not feasible for me to vote for people who do represent me, since they are never actually given the chances to run (all viable levers to run are closed off both de jure and de facto, as you would point out!).

Now you could of course make a reply like, oh but Chris, you really could vote for the green party (which I think I may have), because they at least represent you more so! But then we run into the obvious glaring issue as to how you, and other lefties, are often telling us to vote for the lesser of two evils! I don’t mean this as an insult, but there’s a serious problem here. On the one hand you say the American people can and should make massive reforms by voting better, but on the other hand, every time it comes down to choosing between who the capitalist class can live with, you implore us to choose the lesser of two evils, ensuring the reproduction of a system where again, the American people CANNOT vote for serious structural reform.

So it the flaw in my analysis, or your position, or somewhere else?

I'd love to be given a compelling reasons to vote, but I've yet to find one.

Chris said...

For what it's worth, it's clear by the time of Capital that Marx's position would almost certainly be different than it was in 1847. He no longer accepts Malthus law of population, he no longer accepts that workers have to be paid at that rate of social misery (he's actually quite clear that exploitation can increase, while workers also live more comfortably). So I'm not sure he'd still be advocating that 1847 call for free trade.

Although this is why I often feel compelled to say let's vote Ron/Rand Paul for president. 1, no more warfare! 2, Less invasion of my rights! and 3, the market will get SO MUCH WORSE that maybe things will get better....?

Magpie said...

(1) Either you must disavow the whole of political economy as it exists at present, or (2) you must allow that under the freedom of trade the whole severity of the laws of political economy will be applied to the working classes.

Your pick is (1), then. I've seen other TSSIers picking (1) as well and supporting their views on Branko Milanovic's findings that global income inequality was growing. Which is fair enough, except that Branko Milanovic has recently flip-flopped:

"Global income distribution: From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Great Recession
"Christoph Lakner , Branko Milanovic 27 May 2014
"Since 1988, rapid growth in Asia has lifted billions out of poverty. Incomes at the very top of the world income distribution have also grown rapidly, whereas median incomes in rich countries have grown much more slowly. This column asks whether these developments, while reducing global income inequality overall, might undermine democracy in rich countries."
http://www.voxeu.org/article/global-income-distribution-1988

To me, and I might be mistaken, it sounds like Marx-1847: 1; Branko Milanovic-2014: 0.

Or, to put this in neoclassical economics' lingo: factor price equalization.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factor_price_equalization


PS: Apparently, the Word of Milanovic has fallen out of favour.

Chris said...

Magpie, I don't understand the response. I'm sorry.

Magpie said...

No need to be sorry. There is nothing wrong with not understanding someone's comment.

Let's proceed then little by little. Why do you think Marx would have changed his mind regarding free trade?

Chris said...

Hmm, what I mean is I don't think Marx would be calling forth free trade so vocally given the reworkings of his theory. One particular reason is that there's a period in Marx's work where he seems to believe that natural free trade will lead to an abject miserable condition, or at critics of Marxism cite, Marx's idea that the natural wage is bare subsistence. I think in Vol I Marx is fairly clear that there can be an increase in the standard of living, while there's an even LARGER increase in exploitation, so that bare subsistence is not the only natural wage form.

Magpie said...

Now I am the one who doesn't quite understand.

"I think in Vol I Marx is fairly clear that there can be an increase in the standard of living, while there's an even LARGER increase in exploitation, so that bare subsistence is not the only natural wage form."

Well, if that's so, I missed it. But, never mind that. However, wasn't the TSSI position that the share of wages (related to output) had not fallen? If that is the case, given output, the share of profits (related to output) must have remained unchanged, too.

Doesn't that mean that the exploitation rate has remained unchanged? Or your point about Marx's change of mind is entirely theoretical and not meant to reflect the current situation?

Chris said...

The wage, which is for reproducing labor power, is determined by 'social historical and moral considerations' as Marx said. Obviously a 21st century McDonalds burger cook has a different set of circumstances required to reproduce their labor power, than a 19th century 13 year old working a factory floor. But exploitation can increase, meaning more surplus value can be produced by the McDonalds employee than the 13 year old, and yet an improved standard of living can obtain. This is all in Vol 1 on wages. The RATE of exploitation can OUTPACE the rate of compensation, even if the rate of compensation is increasing due to ‘social historical and moral consideration’.


The TSSI theorists are only positing that there is no contradiction from Vol I-III regarding the conversion of prices into values. Now, do some TSSI theorists also believe that worker's share of wages did not decrease? Yes. But I know some TSSI theorists are also atheists. But they're not atheists, nor proponents of the view that worker's share of wages did not decrease, BECAUSE they're TSSI theorists. They say the latter because that's what the data shows.

As you can see, the veracity of the claim has nothing to do with the TSSI theory:

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/are_corporations_really_stealing_workers_wages_20140409

Magpie said...

"The wage, which is for reproducing labor power, is determined by 'social historical and moral considerations' as Marx said. Obviously a 21st century McDonalds burger cook has a different set of circumstances required to reproduce their labor power, than a 19th century 13 year old working a factory floor."

You are absolutely right on that: poverty is historically and morally determined. Marx knew this, as you say. Where I am not sure is on your belief he did not take that fact into account in 1847.

For one, Marx did not have to discover that by himself. Adam Smith knew that by 1776:

"By necessaries I understand, not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without. A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably, though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-laborer would be ashamed to appear in publick without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty, which, it is presumed, no body can well fall into without extreme bad conduct. Custom, in the same manner, has rendered leather shoes a necessary of life in England."
(https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/smith-adam/works/wealth-of-nations/book05/ch02b-4.htm)

What's more, writing in 1817 (3rd edition of Principles of Political Economy and Taxation) Ricardo repeats that:

"It is not to be understood that the natural price of labor, estimated even in food and necessaries, is absolutely fixed and constant. It varies at different times in the same country, and very materially differs in different countries. It essentially depends on the habits and customs of the people. An English laborer would consider his wages under their natural rate, and too scanty to support a family, if they enabled him to purchase no other food than potatoes, and to live in no better habitation than a mud cabin; yet these moderate demands of nature are often deemed sufficient in countries where 'man's life is cheap', and his wants easily satisfied. Many of the conveniences now enjoyed in an English cottage, would have been thought luxuries in an earlier period of our history."
(http://www.econlib.org/library/Ricardo/ricP2.html)

So, unless you provide evidence to the contrary, I take Marx's 1847 unused intervention as meaning exactly the same: a fall on the current, historically and morally determined, what we nowadays call "living wage".

(I'll go through the rest of your response later)

Chris said...

Right, but Smith’s account of this was nonsensical in a sense. Remember Marx had to try the distinction between labor power and labor time to actually make a sensible case as to why the rate of exploitation can increase greater than the compensation of labor power, even if that compensation improves the condition of the laboring class. And he had certainly NOT done that in 1847.

The general point is that in the 1840s Marx’s view of political economy was basically Smith and Ricardo’s without any augmentation beyond the fact that he saw through their own theories that labor was poorly treated (e.g., alienated). But he did not have his richer account of what the laws of political economy, unfettered would really do, until he advanced political economy theoretically and scientifically.
In Marx’s later writings he makes far too many demands for improving economic conditions for me to believe that he held to the 1847 view that we needed unfettered laissez faire capitalism for socialist reform and/or revolution.

So here’s some demands Marx was making at the end of his life in 1880:
https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/05/parti-ouvrier.htm
1. One rest day each week or legal ban on employers imposing work more than six days out of seven. - Legal reduction of the working day to eight hours for adults. - A ban on children under fourteen years working in private workshops; and, between fourteen and sixteen years, reduction of the working day from eight to six hours;
2. Protective supervision of apprentices by the workers' organizations;
3. Legal minimum wage, determined each year according to the local price of food, by a workers' statistical commission;
4. Legal prohibition of bosses employing foreign workers at a wage less than that of French workers;
5. Equal pay for equal work, for workers of both sexes;
6. Scientific and professional instruction of all children, with their maintenance the responsibility of society, represented by the state and the Commune;
7. Responsibility of society for the old and the disabled;
8. Prohibition of all interference by employers in the administration of workers' friendly societies, provident societies, etc., which are returned to the exclusive control of the workers;
9. Responsibility of the bosses in the matter of accidents, guaranteed by a security paid by the employer into the workers' funds, and in proportion to the number of workers employed and the danger that the industry presents;
10. Intervention by the workers in the special regulations of the various workshops; an end to the right usurped by the bosses to impose any penalty on their workers in the form of fines or withholding of wages (decree by the Commune of 27 April 1871);
11. Annulment of all the contracts that have alienated public property (banks, railways, mines, etc.), and the exploitation of all state-owned workshops to be entrusted to the workers who work there;
12. Abolition of all indirect taxes and transformation of all direct taxes into a progressive tax on incomes over 3,000 francs. Suppression of all inheritance on a collateral line [8] and of all direct inheritance over 20,000 francs.

Magpie said...

As promised, I'll go first through the second part of your November 7, 2014 at 7:43 AM comment.

"The TSSI theorists are only positing that there is no contradiction from Vol I-III regarding the conversion of prices into values. Now, do some TSSI theorists also believe that worker's share of wages did not decrease? Yes. But I know some TSSI theorists are also atheists."

Frankly, I myself don't know any atheist TSSI theorist, as least not on this matter. If you do know some, then it's news to me, and I'll take your word for it.

At any rate, are you disputing either the data, the analysis or the conclusions presented in that link? Otherwise (i.e. if you accept them), my original question stands: Is your point about Marx's change of mind about the consequences of free trade entirely theoretical and not meant to reflect the current situation?

Incidentally, before proceeding to reply to your latest comment (i.e. November 7, 2014 at 6:51 PM), did you read the whole of Marx's speech? Or, for that matter, Engels' article?

Magpie said...

I now proceed with your November 7, 2014 at 6:51 PM comment.

"Right, but Smith’s account of this was nonsensical in a sense. Remember Marx had to try the distinction between labor power and labor time to actually make a sensible case as to why the rate of exploitation can increase greater than the compensation of labor power, even if that compensation improves the condition of the laboring class. And he had certainly NOT done that in 1847."

I can't see why Smith's account of this was nonsensical in any way. His (and Ricardo's) observation is empirical, obtained from experience, not the result of deductive reasoning. Both men just include their observations as a self-evident fact (which you can check, by following the links provided).

Neither Smith nor Ricardo had to go through a "given premises A, B, and C, then it follows that wages are historically and morally determined. QED".

As such, the statement is either true or false, but you cannot dispute on logical grounds the validity of Smith's (or Ricardo's) account. You cannot say, "wages are historically and morally determined" does not follow from A, B, and C.

Both Smith and Ricardo shared same conclusion (which you'll agree is true) WITHOUT any premises. Therefore, no premises are necessary conditions to reach that statement. Marx did not need any premise to reach the same statement: wages are historically and morally determined.

Frankly, I fail to see the object of your 12 demands list. My reading of Marx's speech (and that should please Prof. Wolff) is that he was being ironic: he didn't believe free trade would bring generalized happiness to the working class. He was taking free trade as a given, which would exacerbate class conflict. That is what he was really welcoming.

----------

But, leaving that aside, I am a bit puzzled. I mean, my perception was that the shared aim of all of us was to give Marx a fair hearing. This myth of Marx ever believing on a physiological subsistence wage, to the best of my knowledge, was perpetuated by mainstreamers and could, at most, be traced to Ferdinand Lassalle, not to Marx.