Production and realization of surplus value – Marxists, Keynesians and others

Karl_Marx_001This 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

The Strange Capitalist Embrace of Austerity Viewed in Terms of Marx’s Falling Profit-Rate Law – via heteconomist

An interesting post from Peter Cooper at his heteconomist blog on a topic I have discussed before: the effects and limits of government policy on the rate of profit.

Profitability in a capitalist economy provides both the motive for investment, and the source of it via companies’ retained earnings.

Keynesian policies to expand demand can work to increase growth, but in Marxist terms they are limited by their effects on the rate of profit.

Austerity could perversely raise the growth rate over the medium run by restoring private sector profitability, even if it dampens growth initially.

If this idea is right, one can see that capitalism is often not a ‘nice’ system. It may be unrivaled in its capacity for wealth creation, but this is typically done so unevenly and often unfairly. Intervention can mitigate some of this, but within limits.

Anwar Shaikh’s Classical theory of wages and unemployment

9780199390632Anwar Shaikh is a Professor of economics at the New School for Social Research in New York. His ideas, in his own words, draw mainly but not exclusively on the ‘Classical tradition’ of Smith, Ricardo and Marx. Marx himself was a critic of classical political economy, so in some ways Marxist political economy could be considered as a separate school of thought.

In Shaikh’s 2016 magnum opus, Capitalism, he also draws on Keynes and Kalecki, two economists who greatly inspired the post-Keynesian school. For Shaikh, the Keynesian/Kaleckian emphasis on aggregate demand remains important, but so too does aggregate supply, which is emphasised in mainstream neo-classical economics. According to Shaikh, the classical tradition is not so much demand-side, or supply-side, but ‘profit-side’. The rate of profit is central to his work, and it affects both demand and supply in the capitalist economy.

In this post I want to outline Shaikh’s theory of wages and unemployment, which is covered in Chapter 14 of Capitalism. He covers a great deal of theoretical and empirical ground in the book, not least in this chapter, and it makes for stimulating reading. To avoid making this post too long, I will focus on Shaikh’s own particular theory, rather than spending much time comparing it to alternative theories, which Shaikh does in the book. Continue reading

Moseley’s macro-monetary Marx – a review and partial critique

FMoseley Money and TotalityMarxist Professor Fred Moseley’s recent work Money and Totality was 20 years in the making. A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of reading it, I remarked on this blog that it was thoroughly engaging, at least for those interested in Marxist economic theory and its application to the analysis of capitalism. I also promised further comment, once I had finished it, so here goes.

Moseley’s interpretation of Marx’s theory is ‘macro’ ie macroeconomic, in that it begins logically with the operation of the economy as a whole, and then proceeds to the ‘micro’ or the operation of the individual parts of the economy in question.

The interpretation is ‘monetary’ in that it argues that Marx’s theory uses values or prices quantified in terms of money. Capitalism is a money-using system, and in fact Marx defines capital itself as money which is used to make more money, or ‘self-expanding value’.

The title of the book is thus explained: ‘money and totality’, the latter as describing the importance of the macroeconomic system as a whole. Continue reading

Karl Marx on utility

Karl_Marx_001The concept of utility is paramount in determining consumer demand in mainstream economics. Here Marx offers a brief but lively critique of Bentham’s utilitarianism from his own perspective on political economy, in which the social and the historical are vital to the analysis:

“To know what is useful for a dog, one must investigate the nature of dogs. This nature is not itself deducible from the principle of utility. Applying this to man, he that would judge all human acts, movements, relations, etc. according to the principle of utility would first have to deal with human nature in general, and then with human nature as historically modified in each epoch. Bentham does not trouble himself with this. With the driest naiveté he assumes that the modern petty bourgeois, especially the English petty bourgeois, is the normal man. Whatever is useful to this particular kind of normal man, and to his world, is useful in and for itself. He applies this yardstick to the past, the present and the future.”

Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, footnote 51 to Ch. 24, p. 758

Some limits to Keynesian policy

9780199390632Can Keynesian policies create full employment under capitalism? And what are the limits to such policies? Many economists in the Keynesian tradition, from Paul Krugman on the mainstream wing, to Wynne Godley and Marc Lavoie on the more left-wing heterodox one, have persistently argued that some mixture of monetary and fiscal policy should be used to manage aggregate demand and achieve and maintain full employment under capitalism. What this means in practice is subject to some debate: full employment is a more abstract idea than simply arguing over whether 3% or 5% unemployment represents what is ‘full’.

There have been periods during the history of capitalism across different countries and at different times when full employment has been achieved. The so-called Golden Age of Capitalism in the 1950s and 60s saw very low unemployment in much of Western Europe. Continue reading

Philosophy of mind and ideas in economics

Alfred_Korzybski

All theories and models generated by the human mind and brain are simplifications of reality. They of necessity leave out information in order to make analysis manageable and useful.

This is true of all human thinking, not just in economics. Beliefs, values,  theories and models are all products of human consciousness and are apparently accepted and used when they prove useful, at least to some people!

All schools of economics, whether they emphasise mathematical methods or simply the written word, must necessarily simplify reality. As Alfred Korzybski (pictured above) proclaimed: ‘the map is not the territory’. A map to the scale of 1:1 would be impractical, so mapmakers simplify in order to provide a useful product. Continue reading