was Marx an underconsumptionist?
Charles Brown CharlesB at CNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Mon Feb 28 16:08:09 PST 2000
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>>> Rakesh Bhandari <bhandari at Princeton.EDU> 02/28/00 05:41PM >>>
Charles, you and I are agreed that Marx is here arguing that the social
capacity for consumption is not simply people's capacity to consume but this
capacity as governed and necessarily limited by the requirements of surplus
value production. But if Charles included the whole passage, as well as
interpreting it in the context of the argument as a whole in Capital 3, then I
think it's clear the specific limit to consumption Marx holds to be
explanatorily fundamental to a crisis of general overproduction (the very
possibility of which was denied by classical economics) is located in surplus
value production itself. This does not mean that underconsumption is any less
real than overproduction (indeed they are flip sides of each other); it is to
say that the contradiction in production is explanatorily fundamental.
CB: My interpretation of Marx's use of the term the phrase "The ultimate reason
for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of
the masses .." in an argument in volume three that is, as you say on the role
of the FROP, is that he is describing a contradiction, and he pulls us all of
the way back to the other aspect with "the ultimate reason".
Also, underconsumption is rooted in PRODUCTION. Why ? It is the fact that
workers in PRODUCTION are not paid the full value of what they produce that
there is not effective demand for all that is produced. So, underconsumption is
directly rooted in production.
Since the appropriated surplus value to allow for expanded reproduction is
short--that is, the greatest quantity of surplus value that can possibly be
extorted from the diminished working class is no longer sufficient to augment
the value of the accumulated capital-- workers won't be hired and the already
produced commodity output won't be fully realized. No doubt at all this will be
due to the poverty and the restricted consumption of the workers and especially
the unemployed, but it is the general crisis due to an underproduction of
surplus value that expresses itself as a problem of the realization of surplus
value and insufficient buying power of the working population. This then helps
to understand that crises are actually overcome with the social capacity for
consumption actually declining relative to the accumulated capital!
CB: Yes, but it is just as legitimate to call the workers' inability to buy
everything as a fundamental explanation , because it is based upon Marx's most
fundamental analysis of commodity production in Vol. l. The inability of the
workers to buy all the commodities they produce follows directly from
exploitation, i.e. workers only being paid for a fraction of the values they
produce. So, I think underconsumption is a fundamental explanation based in
Vol. 1 where the actual theory of surplus value is laid out. In other words,
underconsumption follows directly from the nature of surplus value.
Moreover, this is not to say that in the real world due to disproportionalities
and partial overproductions recurrent realization problems cannot spill over
(especially in a highly leveraged economy) to a general crisis, though such
crises should be solvable through a redistribution of capital. For this reason
Marx consciously and explicitly abstracts from all difficulties with
realization in order to demonstrate a limit capital meets in surplus value
As Mattick noted (and I have been draw here from his Economic Crisis and Crisis
Theory) "If the accumulation process can be depicted in abstraction from the
circulation process, the process of reproduction can also be traced without
considering hte realizatin problems it encounters in reality in order to
explain the meaning of the circuit of capital. One can find this mode of
procedure reasonable or not; at any rate, Marx believed that although his
absract model of the capitalist process of circulation did not correspond to
reality in some ways, it could nevertheless contribute to a better
understanding of reality." p.94
CB: See my statement above for an alternative as to what "Marx believed"
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