Friday, 18 September 2015

Krugman/Marx - Part II

No. 2 in the series "NYT Good, Das Kapital Better".

Good: "...the era of the 'productivity paradox', a two-decade-long period during which technology seemed to be advancing rapidly...yet economic growth was sluggish and incomes stagnant...[P]roductivity growth finally took off circa 1995...But a funny thing happened on the way to the techno-revolution. We did not, it turned out, get a sustained return to rapid economic progress. Instead, it was more of a one-time spurt, which sputtered out around a decade ago...even if you adjust for the effects of the financial crisis, growth and trends in income have reverted to the sluggishness that characterized the 1970s and 1980s...So what do I think is going on with technology? The answer is that I don't know - but neither does anyone else."

Better: "We have thus seen in a general way that the same influences which produce a tendency in the general rate of profit to fall, also call forth counter-effects, which hamper, retard, and partly paralyse this fall. The latter do not do away with the law, but impair its effect. Otherwise, it would not be the fall of the general rate of profit, but rather its relative slowness, that would be incomprehensible. Thus, the law acts only as a tendency. And it is only under certain circumstances and only after long periods that its effects become strikingly pronounced.

Before we go on, in order to avoid misunderstandings, we should recall two, repeatedly treated, points.

First: The same process which brings about a cheapening of commodities in the course of the development of the capitalist mode of production, causes a change in the organic composition of the social capital invested in the production of commodities, and consequently lowers the rate of profit. We must be careful, therefore, not to identify the reduction in the relative cost of an individual commodity, including that portion of it which represents wear and tear of machinery, with the rise in the value of the constant in relation to variable capital, although, conversely, every reduction in the relative cost of the constant capital assuming the volume of its material elements remains the same, or increases, tends to raise the rate of profit, i.e., to reduce pro tanto the value of the constant capital in relation to the shrinking proportions of the employed variable capital.

Second: The fact that the newly added living labour contained in the individual commodities, which taken together make up the product of capital, decreases in relation to the materials they contain and the means of labour consumed by them; the fact, therefore, that an ever-decreasing quantity of additional living labour is materialised in them, because their production requires less labour with the development of the social productiveness — this fact does not affect the ratio, in which the living labour contained in the commodities breaks up into paid and unpaid labour. Quite the contrary. Although the total quantity of additional living labour contained in the commodities decreases, the unpaid portion increases in relation to the paid portion, either by an absolute or a relative shrinking of the paid portion; for the same mode of production which reduces the total quantity of additional living labour in a commodity is accompanied by a rise in the absolute and relative surplus-value. The tendency of the rate of profit to fall is bound up with a tendency of the rate of surplus-value to rise, hence with a tendency for the rate of labour exploitation to rise. Nothing is more absurd, for this reason, than to explain the fall in the rate of profit by a rise in the rate of wages, although this may be the case by way of an exception. Statistics is not able to make actual analyses of the rates of wages in different epochs and countries, until the conditions which shape the rate of profit are thoroughly understood. The rate of profit does not fall because labour becomes less productive, but because it becomes more productive. Both the rise in the rate of surplus-value and the fall in the rate of profit are but specific forms through which growing productivity of labour is expressed under capitalism."

Friday, 4 September 2015

Krugman/Marx - Part I

The first in a series, "NYT Good, Das Kapital Better".

Good: "[T]his change also speaks to a subject I have been concerned with for many years: the clash between the finite amount of time employees actually have versus the desire of employers to treat time as an inexhaustible resource...[T]he one change that always seemed to get in the way of other improvements was and still is the growing demand for longer working hours...When everything over 40 hours is free to the employer, the temptation to demand more is almost irresistible."

Better: "What is a working day? What is the length of time during which capital may consume the labor-power whose daily value it buys? How far may the working-day be extended beyond the working time necessary for the reproduction of labor-power itself? It has been seen that to these questions capital replies: the working day contains the full twenty-four hours, with the deduction of the few hours of repose without which labor-power absolutely refuses its services again. Hence it is self-evident that the laborer is nothing else, his whole life through, than labor-power; that therefore all his disposable time is by nature and law labor-time, to be devoted to the self-expansion of capital. Time for education, for intellectual development, for the fulfilling of social functions and for social intercourse, for the free-play of his bodily and mental activity, even the rest time of Sunday (and that in a country of Sabbatarians!)—moonshine! But in its blind, unrestrainable passion, its were-wolf hunger for surplus-labor, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working-day. It usurps the time for growth, development, and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It higgles over a meal-time, incorporating it where possible with the process of production itself, so that food is given to the laborer as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, grease and oil to the machinery. It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, reparation, refreshment of the bodily powers, to just so many hours of torpor as the revival of an organism, absolutely exhausted, renders essential. It is not the normal maintenance of the labor-power which is to determine the limits of the working-day; it is the greatest possible daily expenditure of labor-power, no matter how diseased, compulsory and painful it may be, which is to determine the limits of the laborers’ period of repose."