Archive for January, 2014


The UK’s productivity puzzle

January 24, 2014

This was originally published on the NEF blog at:

You might have missed the ONS’ latest estimates for UK productivity – they crept out late last year on Christmas Eve. They tell a familiar but not especially pretty story: output per hour worked fell by 0.3% over the middle part of 2013. In production industries, it’s down 1.2%. This means whatever economic growth occurred over the last year was not the result of people working better, or more efficiently. It was the result of an increase in the total number of hours worked. Productivity, over the whole year, barely improved.

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Tony Cliff and capitalist crisis

January 5, 2014

A bit more on this. Tony Cliff, in chapter seven of his classic State Capitalism in Russia, offers a brief, analytical description of capitalist crisis, based on Marx, that differs (I think) fairly substantially from what has become the orthodoxy. Cliff describes the central contradiction owners of capital face between the need to both generate profits, via the creation of surplus value, and the need to realise those profits in monetary form, by selling the output produced. It is this contradiction that drives the whole process of the business cycle, but, critically, Cliff does not here attempt to make the claim (central to Chris Harman’s version of the theory) that the falling rate of profit ultimately determines the entire system:

Unlike all pre-capitalist forms of production, capitalism is forced to accumulate more and more capital. But this process is hampered by two complementary, and yet contradictory, factors, both arising out of the system itself. One is the decline in the rate of profit, which means the shrinking of the sources of further accumulation. The other is the increase in production beyond the absorptive capacity of the market. If it were not for the first contradiction, the “underconsumptionist” solution of the crisis – to raise the wages of the workers – would be a simple and excellent answer. If it were not for the second contradiction, fascism could, by continuously cutting wages, have staves off the crisis for a long period at least…

…the rate of profit determines the rate of accumulation, the rate of accumulation determines the extent of employment, the extent of employment determines the level of wages, the level of wages determines the rate of profit, and so on in a vicious circle. A high rate of profit means a quick accumulation, hence an increase in employment and a rise in wages. This process continues to a point where the rise in wage rates so adversely affects the rate of profit that accumulation either declines catastrophically or ceases altogether…

This theory explains why, in spite of the antagonistic mode of distribution and the tendency of the rate of profit to decline, there is not a permanent crisis of overproduction, but a cyclical movement of the economy.

This is, to my mind, a much more satisfactory description of the actual history of capitalist development than the prediction of ever-worsening crises over time, ameliorated only by “countervailing factors”.


Rosa Luxemburg and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall

January 2, 2014

This is a longish note that was originally part of an email discussion concerning the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (TRPF) in Marx’s own writings, and that of later Marxists. It might be of wider interest, so I’ve reproduced it here.

The evidence from Rosa Luxemburg’s principle writings does not tend to support the conclusion that she viewed the falling rate of profit as an essential part of her analysis. Her critical focus, in The Accumulation of Capital, was on the crisis of realisation: of what we might now think of as effective demand. On the basis of her updates of Marx’s volume 2 reproduction schemes, she concluded that this realisation crisis – not a profits crisis – could be resolved through the expansion of capital into the non-capitalist world; that is, through imperialism. The dynamic of her system, in other words, was not determined by a crisis of profitability emerging at the point of production (as in the orthodox, Chris Harman version of TRPF), but of crisis emerging as result of problems in the circulation of commodities.

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