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

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Mon Jan 16 2006 - 12:50:02 EST

Jerry, my emphasis was not on the oversupply of labor relative to
capital but the undersupply of capital relative to labor. Perhaps the
oversupply of labor is unique, but what explains the fixity in the supply of
capital? I would still appreciate any illumination on what Freeman is saying
about this.  It seems terribly confused and vague, yet
the fixity in the supply of capital seems to be a key premise
in Freeman's argument.

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.  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)? what about the increase  in working population from colonialism?
what was the rate of population growth then?
Of course we need an expert in demography.

I am also not sure whether the entry of new workers from
the PRC, the former Soviet bloc and India should be seen simply as exogeneous
shock to the capitalist system, as a resource that just fell in the hands of a
capitalist system enduring domestic stagnation and that just happened to create
greater opportunities for profit than those at home.


>  > But I would argue that the fundamental apologetic mistake Freeman
>  > makes is to confuse the source of the present global oversupply of
>  > labor vis a vis capital with its source in Malthus' time.
>Perhaps, but neither we should not confuse the source(s) of the present
>over-supply of labour  power with the source(s) of the over-supply of
>available labour power  in the various historical periods that Grossman
>referred to.  There are some similarities but a large part of  the context
>that R. Freeman is talking about -- the dramatic increase in workers
>producing for international markets due to the entry of workers from the
>PRC and Russia (and other now independent nations that were once part
>of the USSR and many Eastern European nations) -- is quite different from
>that in the time of Malthus or Grossman.
>Whether one believes that the USSR, the PRC, etc. were socialist or state
>capitalist,  it is clear that most workers in those nations were not producing
>commodities for sale on international capitalist markets.  Of course, there
>was some production for international markets which varied in
>different 'socialist'
>nations and periods, but this was more in the form of  trade within
>'socialist blocs'
>(e.g. trade between the USSR and COMECON nations) than a generalized
>production of commodities for sale in global capitalist markets.
>Obviously, this
>development -- the 'freeing-up' of large amounts of workers from
>'socialist' nations
>now employed by private capitalists for  export-led commodity
>production -- was
>something that Grossman could not have anticipated. (So I am not advancing a
>criticism of Grossman; I am only noting a way in which the current period is
>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".  OTOH,  the increase in
>the  quantity of workers employed by capital for the production of commodities
>on global markets in India and some other less developed capitalist nations
>could be viewed as another concurrent tendency.  But, that tendency also has
>to be put in the context of other concurrent tendencies, e.g. the growth in
>the informal (petty commodity producing) sector in some of the same social
>formations. This is important when thinking about the extent to which the
>entry of new workers into the employed wage labor force changes  variable
>In solidarity, Jerry

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