[OPE-L:3867] The Causes of Inflation

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Fri, 20 Dec 1996 19:49:18 -0800 (PST)

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Alejandro R in [OPE-L:3866] also thinks it would be a good idea to
discuss inflation and the changing relation over time between value (and
labor-time) and market prices (money market prices). I'm more than willing
to take that ball and run.

The following is divided into two parts: Blake's Questions and Jerry's

I. Blake's Questions

In [OPE-L:2998], a series of questions posed in William Blake's 1965
unpublished guide to study of Karl Marx were reproduced (courtesy of
Rakesh). The first question concerns ... you guessed it ... inflation:

1. On the basis of Marxian monetary theory, what is the explanation for
the great rise in prices in the last seventy years....The rise has been at
a pace never before seen, except in the 16th century. Is the cause the
policy of deficit financing now spread to most countries? Is it the rise of
the percentage of persons not engaged in material production who
nevertheless demand commodities? Is it is the increasing price of labor
power due to the increased costs of its training? Or were these factors
subsidiary to the effect of wars and the increasing reliance of capitalism
on wars, whether cold or hot, as both the motor and the balance wheel of
the economy? Is the need to insure against social discontent, by resorting
to deficit financing rather than touch current surplus value, a factor?

II. Jerry's Questions

1. In a simple closed economy where there is a commodity money
system, what are the causes of inflation?

2. How does the above change when we have a credit-money system?

3. What is the relationship between the law of the tendency for the
general rate of profit to decline and the counteracting factors to the
LTGRPD to changes in the average price level of commodities?

4. How and why does the average price level change during the different
phases of the business cycle?

5. If there is such a thing as "long waves" (a topic we haven't discussed
yet on this list), what explains the long-term movement of the price level
during each long wave?

6. How does the division between money capital and real capital
(plus the turnover of capital, credit and fictitious capital) affect the
inflationary process?

7. What is the relation between changes in stock market activities
(prices, timing, organization) to inflation?

8. How can differential and absolute ground rent affect inflation?

9. When the process of the concentration and centralization of capital has
developed to such an extent that many branches of production come to be
dominated by oligopolies, how can oligopolistic price determination affect
inflation? Can this process lower the value of labor power by increasing
the prices of the commodities that wages are exchanged against (and,
perhaps, by decreasing the pace of technological change which might
otherwise lead to a decrease in the prices of means of consumption)?

10. How can cartels affect inflation? To what extent was OPEC a
contributing cause to the inflation experienced by most capitalist
economies in the 1970's?

11. What affect do wage-struggles have on the rate of inflation?

12. How does the state contribute to inflation? ... by increased borrowing
and expenditures? ... by monetary policy? ... by controlling the size of
the money supply? ... by price supports for commodities in certain
branches of production? ... other?

13. Is inflation necessarily associated with wartime spending and

14. How are rates of inflation in individual capitalist economies affected
by international trade (and state policies re trade)?

15. What were the causes of hyperinflation in many countries in Latin
America during the 1980's? In Russia in the 1990's?

16. How have the policies of "Neoliberalism" affected the inflationary
process in advanced capitalist economies? ... in "newly industrializing
countries"? ... in other parts of the Third World?

17. How have the different strategies of international lending agencies
(e.g. the IMF, the World Bank) affected the inflationary process
internationally and regionally? How have anti-inflationary policies
affected workers and peasants in individual capitalist nations [pick a
country for an example]?

18. What were the causes of stagflation in the late 1970's?

19. Is there anything that Marxists can learn from Post-Keynesian and/or
monetarist theories of inflation? If so, what?

Of course, I don't expect anyone to attempt to answer all or even most of
Blake's and Jerry's questions. However, even *small* bites would be
appreciated to get the ball rolling (i.e. the discussion started).

In solidarity, Jerry