[OPE-L:1630] Re: Britain's decline

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Fri, 29 Mar 1996 03:34:48 -0800

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>"just because [the capitalists] chose to spend [their profits]
> on luxuries they are not capitalists? What class are they then?"
>Rentiers: a parasitic class which lives of the family silver and other
>people's profits. They are to capitalism what Louis XIV was
>to the aristocracy.
>The reason the British capitalists laugh on the way to the bank
>is that they have nowhere else to go.

Thus you recognise that rentiers are a fraction of the capitalist
class. With the dominance of this class in mature capitalism, the
tendancy to accumulate is depressed. This is a long term process
which can be observed even during Marxs lifetime:

Consider the following:
British 19th Century Accumulation
( from C&C 55, p121)
Year K/v p'' accumulation as 0rofit
1855 6.52 7.5% 1.04 -29%
1860 5.73 9.2% 1.12 -5.9%
1865 5.44 11.7% 1.26 8.1%
1870 5.20 13.5% 1.37 -1.3%
1875 4.73 12.3% 1.18 8.2%
1880 5.01 11.1% 1.23 5.4%
1885 4.60 10.5% 1.18 1.1%
1890 3.77 12.7% 1.10 2.0%
1895 3.56 13.9% 1.19 4.3%

Thus it is possible for accumulation to be either
negative or nugatory for a prolonged period, even
under classical capitalism. Maybe one could argue
that capitalism in Britain has been in crisis for
a century and a half, but once crisis becomes the
norm, it can not be dismissed as exception. De te
fabula natur.

I see nothing in the historical record here that
need upset defenders of Okishio. Nor do I see why
we should be concerned to refute him. Was he not
just bringing out what Marx himself argued.
Marx pointed out the inherent limitations involved in
cost calculations under the capitalist system, and how these
held back potential developments of technology.
Suppose, then, a machine cost as much as the wages for a
year of the 150 men that it displaces, say \pounds 3,000;
this \pounds 3,000 is by no means the expression in
money of the labour added to the object produced by these
150 men before the introduction of the machine, but only
of the portion of their years labour which was expended
for themselves and represented by their wages. On the other
hand, the \pounds 3,000, the money value of the machine,
expresses all the labour expended on its production,
no matter in what proportion this labour constitutes wages
for the workman, and surplus value for the capitalist.
Therefore, though a machine costs as much as the labour
power displaced by it costs, yet the labour materialised
in it is even then much less than the living labour
it replaces.\footnote{``These mute agents (machines) are
always the produce of much less labour than that which they
displace, even when they are of the same money value'' (Ricardo, 1. C., p. 40)}
(Marx, 1970, p392)\end{quote}
Marx then goes on to define what a rational criterion
for the employment of machinery would be.
The use of machinery for the exclusive purpose of
cheapening the product, is limited in this way, that
less labour must be expended in producing the machinery
than is displaced by the employment of the machinery.(Marx, 1970, p392)
This limit would act as an upper bound in
any mode of production, but this
dgree if rationality can not be achieved in a
capitalist economy. To each mode of production
there exists its own proper form of economic calculation,
its own proper form of economising.
For the capitalist, however, this use is still more
limited. Instead of paying for the labour, he pays
only the value of the labour power employed; therefore
the limit to his using a machine is fixed by the difference
between value of the machine and the value of the
labour power replaced by it.
(Marx, 1970, p392)

Thus, even if it is possible to improve the efficiency
of production, and reduce the value of the product, a
capitalist will not do this until this much more stringent
condition is met. Thus unless workers are able to raise
their wages, there is a strong tendancy towards technical
conservatism built into capitalism, and a strong tendancy
not to invest in new machinery. As I understand it, Okishio
is mainly concerned to emphasise the necessity for a
struggle to raise wages.