[OPE-L] If a six turned out to be nine

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Oct 02 2006 - 14:24:23 EDT

Rakesh, you wrote:

"You think the change of plan controversy has already run its course. I
don't think it has even begun".

Comment - That is not what I think - what I think is only that there have
been many individuals and schools already, which have tried to answer the
question of how to develop Marx's analysis further. Among others,

- the reproduction schemes (e.g. Hilferding, Bauer, Grossman, Luxemburg,
- levels of abstraction (e.g. Kozo Uno, Itoh, Althusser)
- partially autonomous variables and long waves (e.g. Mandel)
- social structure of accumulation (e.g. Bowles, Gordon)
- regulation theory (e.g. Aglietta, Boyer)
- unequal exchange theories (e.g. Emmanuel, Amin)
- international trade (e.g. Busch, Altvater, Girschner, Siegel, Shaikh)
- profit squeeze (e.g. Glyn, Armstrong, Harrison)
- systematic dialectics (e.g. Reuten, Smith, Arthur)
- the role of the state (e.g. Jessop, Kofler)

These approaches have yielded important new insights, but obviously there
are other possibilities as well, I would not exclude that.

The questions Mandel raised in chapter 1 of his dissertation Late Capitalism
is "how can we relate the Marxian laws of motion of capitalism to the real
economic history of capitalism?" and "why were the Marxists not very
successful in relating these laws of motion to real history" but this
obviously permits of many possible answers. Some Marxists argue there are no
"laws of motion" but only one law of motion,  e.g. the "law of

When Marx talks about economic reproduction, I think he aims in general to
show, using the categories of Cc, Cf, V, and S how the capitalist mode of
production can re-create its own initial conditions, and thus perpetuate
itself and expand as a distinctive, relatively stable form of production. He
attempts to show, among other things, that his categories are validated,
because they can apply, at least in the pure case, both at the micro-level
of the individual enterprise and the macro-level of many enterprises
interacting. For that very reason, however, I think it is doubtful whether a
crisis theory can be inferred from a reproduction scheme, the latter which
obviously can involve a variety of quantitative and qualitative assumptions,
and thus can only show various logical *possibilities* of critical economic
disproportions. I do not think that in this analysis Marx himself specifies
conditions for "equilibrium" at all. In a dynamic framework, we are dealing
only with the fluctuations in relative growth rates of critical variables.

Admittedly, Marx does say in TSV "But the crisis is precisely the phase of
disturbance and interruption of the process of
But point is that many different possible (internal and external) factors
could possibly interrupt or disturb the normal economic reproduction

So, as regards "crisis theory", I think it would be helpful to distinguish
theoretically more precisely between:

(1) Arguments about the possibility of economic crises
(2) Arguments about the necessary occurrence of economic crises
(3) Arguments about the periodicity or (more or less regular) recurrence of
economic crises
(4) Arguments about the root causes of economic crises
(5) Arguments about the immediate "triggers" of economic crises
(6) Arguments about the general character of capitalist crises, versus
specific crises
(7) Arguments about what is unique about economic crises in capitalism,
versus other modes of production
(8) Arguments about the political implications of different explanations of
economic crises
(9) Arguments about different kinds of economic crises -
conjunctural/cyclical downturns, recessions, and real economic depressions
(10) Arguments about the perception of crises, versus the objective reality
of crises

As regards Grossman, who doesn't always identify these very clearly, I think
he distinguished between the "tendency towards breakdown" which he tries to
derive from the reproduction schemes (a tendency towards the
overaccumulation of constant capital in production, meaning insufficient
surplus value produced to valorise it) and specific crises which result in
attempts to restructure capital assets in such a way that expanded
reproduction is restored. Grossman's "tendency towards breakdown" is
permanent, insofar as, in the long run, increases in labour-productivity
must result in lowering the profit rate. Periodically or episodically, this
results in crises, bringing into play various factors or changes which
restore profitability, without however cancelling the breakdown tendency,
which persists and eventually recurs on a larger scale.

Point is, that argument can be made without referring to the reproduction
schemes at all, simply by looking at how the relationship between core
variables (such as rate and mass of surplus value, rate and mass of profit,
capital composition, capital turnover, rate of accumulation by sector,
relative growth rates of different sectors) actually works out in real
economic history.

In any case, what I think we cannot deny is that economic growth produces
more and more durable assets which exist external to the sphere of
production, which can be traded, and thus can be a source of capital
accumulation. Thus, I think in considering the capital accumulation process
*as a whole*, it would be wrong to focus only on what happens to production.
This critique of Grossman's schema is different from Trigg's - it focuses on
the asset question, rather than the monetary question. The inimitable Mark
Weisbrot suggested a couple years ago that in the US, the hike in real
estate prices since the 1980s had created at least 3 trillion dollars worth
of extra capital, at least on paper. That is not small money, and a good
part of it fuels the import of real wealth that adds to assets which can be
traded and accumulated. He suggests that this capital is likely to be wiped
out within a few years as the housing boom moves to bust, but most probably
I would say it is likely to be a more gradual process (except if some
critical event causes a financial panic).


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