[OPE-L:3261] Re: labour-power shortages and Martians

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Fri, 4 Oct 1996 02:09:46 -0700 (PDT)

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>Paul C wrote in [OPE-L:3248]:
>> What Jerry says is true, but consider for a moment the future of the
>> capitalist world economy. Once the process of migration from peasant
>> agriculture to the cities has been completed world wide in perhaps 50
>> years time, will not world capitalism be in the same situation
>> as Japan in the 90s or Britain in the 50s?
>I don't think so.
>(1) Advances in the productivity of labor in agriculture that
>accompany accumulation and proletarianization mean that a given amount of
>labor and land will be capable of producing additional quantities of
>agricultural commodities.
You totally misinterpreted my point. I was not talking about agricultural
productivity, but about the long term historical trajectory of the capitalistic
system of economy.

The agricultural population existing
under pre-capitalist economic relations constitues the latent reserve army
of labour for capitalism. The migration from the countryside to the
cities is a process of bringing this population under capitalist
relations. Once this is done, we see the removal of the external labour
supply upon which the expansion of variable capital had been dependent.
Simultaneously, the birth rate declines as the patriarchal family is replaced
by the bourgeois one.

The net consequence is that accumulation of capital must now take two

a. Accumulation of variable capital takes the form of rises in the
wage rate, with consequent declines in the rate of profit.


b. Accumulation takes the form of growth of constant capital, which, being
unaccompanied by a growth in surplus value must also depress the
rate of profit.

Under these circumstances there are two politically determined outcomes.
Either the free market mechanism is allowed to run its course and the world
economy will settle into a prolongued period of stagnation due to the
opportunities for profitable investment disappearing. Or, alternatively,
political pressures lead to measures to continue investment despite the
decline in the rate of profit - Keynesian lowering of long term interest
rates being an example. The latter course was the one that prevailed in
Britain during the 50s and 60s. Dependent upon political circumstances,
the second course leads to the progressive socialisation of investment and
endangers the continued existence of capitalism.

>(2) There is no reason to suppose that there will be a labor-power
>shortage in agricultural production, especially given the increasing
>amounts of agricultural proletarians that accompany concentration in
>capitalist agriculture. If there is increased demand for wage-earners in
>agricultural branches of production, there is no reason to believe that
>laborers (barring state action) will not move to these geographic areas.
>(3) There is no reason (if we reject the Malthusian argument) to suppose
>that increases in the absolute population (as distinct from the relative
>surplus population) will grow at a faster pace than the growth of
>agricultural output and productivity.
>(4) There are still parts of *this* world that can be exploited. For
>instance, the sea (especially if people accept certain food, like seaweed,
>that may be alien to certain cultures).
>(5) Labor-power shortages, to the extent that they occur, are
>cyclically-related. This is one of the major points of the FRP caused by
>labor-power shortage theories of crisis in the sense that advocates of
>those theories of crisis believe that changes in the supply of
>labour-power can explain the *periodicity* of crisis.
>(6) Although state policies sometimes encourage labor migration where
>there is a shortage of labour-power, many governments oppose such
>migration in times of crisis. On the other hand, we have seen in recent
>years a growth in regional trade associations in which the restrictions on
>labor mobility among the nations in the RTA are relaxed (this is, after
>all, one of the major changes in the Common Market, is it not?).
>(7) I suspect you are right: Martian immigration is not an option. I don't
>see large numbers of working people either moving to or from Mars or any
>other planet at any time in the forseeable future. This, however, does
>not support the thesis that there will be an absolute shortage of land
>for either agricultural production or residential housing.
>(8) On that last point, although increasing numbers of working people may
>migrate to cities, this raises land values and rent. Yet, as so
>frequently happens in cities, working people can live on top of one
>another (i.e. there can be an increase in the *height* of residential
>housing to accompany the increased demand for housing). This, in general,
>would increase the cost of living of workers in cities and lead to a
>decrease in real wages rather than an increase.
>In Solidarity,
Paul Cockshott