Re: [OPE-L] the global labor force and capital accumulation

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Tue Jan 17 2006 - 12:53:33 EST

>  > And I am not sure about  this tremendous increase in
>>  the global labor supply relative to the existing working population
>>  being  unique in the history of capitalism--of course in absolute
>>  numbers it is staggering. But in relative terms perhaps not, though
>>  I am hardly sure.
>It's unique at least from the perspective of
>a) the history of late capitalism,
>b) the standpoint of a dramatic shift in the quantity of new wage-workers
>producing commodities for sale primarily on international markets in a
>'globalized' economy. (see next to last para. below)
>>  What about  19th-20th century immigration to the US,
>>  much larger then in relation  to existing population than immigration
>>  is today (the absolute number of immigrants is today about the same as
>>  it was in the years before WWI)?
>Well, you'd have to look at the historical statistics to be sure, but
>I think most of those immigrants became wage-workers who
>primarily produced commodities for sale on _domestic_ markets.

Why would this matter as to the effect of an influx of immigrants
on the capital to labor ratio? Isn't that what Freeman is talking about--
why the capital to labor ratio has dropped? Large scale immigration
could have done the same in the past?
Why with an influx of new global workers has said ratio dropped today?

Part of Freeman's answer of  of what is new is not only the addition
of new workers
  but the fixity in the supply of capital.

Again I ask the question of what it
means to say the supply of capital is fixed and how that is to be explained.
I am posing clear questions about Freeman's article.

I understand that you may not find my question interesting. That
is alright. But let's not pretend that you are speaking in any kind
of conversation with me.

>>  what about the increase  in working population from colonialism?
>>  what was the rate of population growth then?
>I doubt that the rate of infusion of new wage workers into the
>global labor force who produce commodities for sale on
>international markets ever took place within such a short
>historical period as now.

Perhaps but we may be surprised by the rapid growth of the capitalist
labour force in the past. We do need historic demographic analysis on
this point.

>  Also, the international division of
>labor is now significantly different than it was in periods when
>you had colonialism.  What this means, for instance, is that
>workers in the colonial period in colonized nations tended to
>be involved in extractive production, i.e.  to the extent that
>they produced commodities for sale abroad, they tended to
>specialize in the extraction of raw materials and the production
>of intermediate goods and in the transportation sector. In the
>current period, we are seeing a large percentage of the new
>wage-workers that Freeman was referring to producing final
>goods for export which have already been assembled.

Well yes production has become more competing. But in the past
workers had to compete not with foreign based workers but
immigrants and new workers from domestic population growth.

>The question shouldn't be whether this new trend is unique;
>the question should be (imo) what are the consequences for
>understanding the current period.

Again that's not my question. I am asking a simple
questions about key premises in Freeman's analysis.

Now as for your previous "reply" to my questions
about Freeman's analysis, I was quite surprised by
this cavalier statement:

>There are other disanalogies and analogies: even if one  accepts Grossman's
>argument,  one can not reasonably claim that the current transition "is a
>necessary and  constitutive element of capitalism."  Yet one might claim that
>this "can and should only be a transitory tendency".

Jerry, do you mean that the worsening situation of labor vis a vis
capital and the absolute
growth of the surplus population "' can and should only be a
transitory tendency'"? If this is what you mean, would you please
elaborate this bit of revisionist argument? Otherwise it would seem
that by encouraging a belief in the self equilibriating and
progressive nature of the system, you are providing much comfort to
management even as they acquiesce (seemingly because they forsee more
than transitory problems) in the construction of what Poulantzas once
called authoritarian statism.

You may in fact be providing much more comfort to management than
Ian's skepticism of postmodernism!


>In solidarity
>PS: I'm not sure how Freeman came up with his estimates for
>the  how "the effective supply of capital ... has virtually
>remained unchanged".  While his estimates for a change in the
>capital-labor ratio have been widely cited on the Net, I
>haven't been able to discover the original source for the
>estimates.  You could see his NBER page -- <>
>-- where many of his papers and his CV are online to
>track down the original source.  Or, you could (following
>the example of Paul B) ask him:

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