This quote is taken from a footnote to Marx’s Capital Volume II (p. 391 in the Penguin edition). The volume was put together after Marx’s death by his friend and collaborator Engels, drawing on extensive notes. The quote provides inspiration for the analysis of one particular contradiction in the dynamics of capitalism :
“Contradiction in the capitalist mode of production. The workers are important for the market as buyers of commodities. But as sellers of their commodity – labour-power – capitalist society has the tendency to restrict them to their minimum price. Further contradiction: the periods in which capitalist production exerts all its forces regularly show themselves to be periods of over-production; because the limit to the application of the productive powers is not simply the production of value, but also its realization. However, the sale of commodities, the realization of commodity capital, and thus of surplus-value as well, is restricted not by the consumer needs of society in general, but by the consumer needs of a society in which the great majority are always poor and must always remain poor.” (my emphasis)
It is important not to take this quote out of context. In addition, despite significant inequality and poverty, Marx was clearly wrong about the majority always remaining poor under capitalism. However, the contradiction described here between the production of surplus value and its realization upon sale, has given rise to plenty of debate among left economists. Continue reading →
Yesterday’s post mentioned the ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ policies pursued by Germany, which have supported export-led growth, at the expense of its eurozone neighbours, and more recently the wider global economy. The Trump administration has criticised German trade policies and has vowed to use protectionism to promote US industry. It is possible that this will create employment in the short run in particular industrial sectors, but the effect on the US economy overall will be more complex. Other nations could retaliate and the resultant shrinkage in world trade could ultimately undermine global economic growth, albeit unevenly.
In a world with persistently sluggish growth in demand, such as we are continuing to witness in the wake of the financial crisis, there is thus a greater potential for conflict over international trade. Things have not entirely mirrored the 1930s, when the Great Depression gave rise to substantial protectionism in many nations, but the pressure to adopt nationalist policies in the absence of global cooperation is still strong. Continue reading →
This paper by Jorg Bibow has a useful take on how an ideology of anti-Keynesianism among German policymakers and its economic outcomes as a popular mythology result from a misreading of economic history. This faulty economic analysis has arguably played a major role in the eurozone crisis, and recent improvements in the eurozone economy are at the expense of the rest of the world. This is a form of ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ policy, as a weak euro is stimulating demand for eurozone exports from its external trading partners, while domestic demand in the region remains weak. The eurozone economy is therefore improving by making the zone as a whole more like Germany in recent history, which has ‘succeeded’ via a dependence on export-led growth. Continue reading →
Donald Trump has claimed that the jobs figures for the US under Barack Obama were ‘phony’. Now with the first set of monthly jobs figures published under his presidency, he has claimed credit for the picture they give of a healthy labour market. In fact, they are the 77th consecutive month of job gains in the US. Now of course, changes in employment are not all down to the White House, but government policy does have an influence.
Unemployment in the US is now down to less than 5%, an apparently good performance. But the employment rate is only at about 60% of the population and has been falling since 2000 when it was about 65%. Growth in average wages has also been weak in recent years. Compare these figures with those for the UK, where unemployment lies at a similar rate, but the employment rate is up at 75%. Wages have been similarly stagnant, while the number of self-employed workers has risen strongly since the recession. Productivity growth in the two economies has also been very weak for a number of years.
What can economics say about these trends, and the potential for policy to improve upon them? Continue reading →
Recently, the economics editor of the Guardian newspaper in the UK, Larry Elliott, presented us with a comparison of the Great Depression of the 1930s and now. In effect, Elliott argued that the world economy was now in a similar depression as then. The 1930s depression started with a stock market crash in 1929, followed […]
Below is a helpful quote from post-KeynesiansWynne Godley and Marc Lavoie on fiscal deficits and full employment. I am sceptical, based on economic history, that full employment can be sustained for lengthy periods under capitalism, which Keynesians claim is possible given the right policies. However it usefully makes a nonsense of the oft-found obsession many governments have with austerity and ‘balancing the books’, as if the public finances are akin to those of a prudent household. Continue reading →
Chris Edwards says the privatizations started by Thatcher “transformed the British economy” and boosted productivity. This raises an under-appreciated paradox.
The thing is that privatization isn’t the only thing to have happened since the 1980s which should have raised productivity, according to (what I’ll loosely call) neoliberal ideology. Trades unions have weakened, which should have reduced “restrictive practices”. Managers have become better paid, which should have attracted more skilful ones, and better incentivized them to increase productivity. And the workforce has more human capital: since the mid-80s, the proportion of workers with a degree has quadrupled from 8% to one-third […]