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

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Wed Jan 18 2006 - 05:43:31 EST

Rakesh Bhandari wrote:

> 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.

Oversupply of labour is temporary. It will come to and end
within 25 to 40 years. The growing workforce means an period
of exponential growth of the accumulation fund - a growth that
is faster than the natural population growth. By the end
of the 2030s the economies of China and india will be looking
for external places ot invest their surplus capital - where will
that be?
Africa has too small a population relative to the rest of the world
to be able to provide a significant labour surplus. Hence the
oversupply is relatively termporary ( in the historical scale, though
long by the scale of one persons life ).

> 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.
> Rakesh
>>  > 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.
>> Rakesh,
>> 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
>> distinct.)
>> 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
>> capital.
>> In solidarity, Jerry

Paul Cockshott
Dept Computing Science
University of Glasgow

0141 330 3125

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