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Monday, March 22, 2010

A confusing post about monopoly rents and the level of exploitation

I hear the sounds of the city and dispossessed
Get down and get undressed.


Since the 1970s in America, the radical economists have used the model of monopoly rents to critique capitalism – inheriting the progressive tradition of battling against the giant trusts and restoring competition as a way of cutting down the accumulated economic and political advantages of the capitalist class. This way of thinking cuts across the grain of the (intentionally) naïve Manicheanism of the conservative economists, who like to pit the private sector (which is productive) against the government sector (which is parasitic). The notion that production – say, of education – magically turns into its opposite when done by the state is one of the stranger tics of the economic school that comes out of Chicago. But, as the radical economists like to point out, their liberal opponents, too, hold on to some less mystical version of this story, and ultimately believe that the market is the most efficient way to allocate capital – while worrying about distribution effects. The radicals, though, simply don’t believe in the private market at all – that is, they find that the state and the players in the private sector are always intertwined in some way.

One of the radical ploys, then, is to press on the idea of competition. In today’s NYT, for instance, there is an article by Yochai Benkler that asks the question: why has the U.S. fallen so far behind the rest of the developed world in the number of users of broadband, and in the expensiveness of broadband. The answer is that the government has coddled monopolies:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/21/opinion/21Benkler.html?scp=3&sq=monopoly%20&st=cse

“IMAGINE that for $33 a month you could buy Internet service twice as fast as what you get from Verizon or Comcast, bundled with digital high-definition television, unlimited long distance and international calling to 70 countries and wireless Internet connectivity for your laptop or smartphone throughout much of the country.
That’s what you can buy in France, and similar speeds and prices are available in other countries with competitive markets. But not in the United States. Prices here are three to five times that much for the fastest speeds — the highest prices among advanced economies.


Affordability is the hard part — because there is no competition pushing down prices. The plan acknowledges that only 15 percent of homes will have a choice in providers, and then only between Verizon’s FiOS fiber-optic network and the local cable company. (AT&T’s “fiber” offering is merely souped-up DSL transmitted partly over its old copper wires, which can’t compete at these higher speeds.) The remaining 85 percent will have no choice at all.
Last year my colleagues and I did a study for the Federal Communications Commissionshowing that a significant reason that other countries had managed to both expand access and lower rates over the last decade was a commitment to open-access policies, requiring companies that build networks to sell access to rivals that then invest in, and compete on, the network.”
Among those disposed to Marxist analysis, monopoly rents operate beyond the unpaid labor of the workers embodied in profit. If competition can work on the surface to lower prices, then, the thought is, monopoly can work on the surface to raise them – or preserve prices from the “cheapening of the commodity” which, according to Marx, is one of the responses to competition between individual capitalists.



Marx was always corrosive about the idea that reform, rather than revolution, would remove the fundamental social conditions that immiserated the working class. This is from the Grundrisse:


“As the division of labor produces agglomeration, combination, cooperation, the opposite of private interests, class interests, competition produces concentration of capital, monopoly, stock companies [Aktiengesellschaften] – purely antithetical forms of the unity that the antithesis itself evokes – so private exchange produces world trade, private independence the most complete dependence on the so called world market, and, with the splittered act of exchange, a bank and credit sector, whose accounting books record the smallest equivalences of private exchange. The private interests of each nation divide it multitudinously into just so many nations as it possesses full grown individuals; the interests of the exporters and importers of the same nation stand here opposed to one another; and the national trade contains merely a semblance of existence, etc. in the rate of exchange Nobody should believe because of this that he might be able to abolish the foundations of domestic or foreign private trade through a reform of the Borse. But so many relations of trade and production are generated within the bourgeois society that depends on exchange value that they are even like so many mines, set to explode it (a mass of antithetical forms of social unity, whose opposed character is never to be exploded through quiet metamorphosis. On the other hand, if we did not find veiled, in society as it is, the material conditions of production and their corresponding relations of intercourse [Verkehrsvehältnisse] for a classless society, all efforts to explode it would be quixotic.)” – Grundrisse, 93-94


The interesting reference, here, is to those salvageable relations of intercourse, or commerce – which, in the standard translation of the Grundrisse, are rendered as relations of exchange. Here, I think, Marx is making a stab at what would later be called relations of reciprocity. Given the idea that there are features within the current nature of capitalism that are proleptic of the post-revolutionary state of society, one has to ask whether this or that feature of reform is a step in that direction or away from it. In any case, the accumulation that makes the capitalists as a class stronger is, as Marx saw, composed of unpaid labor that has the effect of making the working class more and more dependent on the capitalist class.

Marx does see that at any point in time, there are positions within the spectrum of ownership that would cause the capitalists to internally oppose one another – for instance, on the question of export and import. These antitheses can have enormous consequences that can be mapped out in various branches of industry. A very rough overview of the American economy since WWII could be made using two simple variables – the rate at which monopoly rents are exhausted, and the rate at which the working class successfully lowered the rate of exploitation – and you would get a picture of a sort of conjunction in the 1970s. At that point, there was a certain flip as the American capitalist class as a whole saw its interest in raising the rate of exploitation for the reason that the supplement of monopoly rents – in the world economy – had shrunk. In such pacts, the importers and exporters can agree.

15 comments:

northanger said...

NHF 3924 = MIKE LEBOWITZ, IN HIS BOOK BEYOND CAPITAL (NOW IN ITS 2ND EDITION!), ARGUES THAT IN CAPITAL, MARX TOOK THE WORKING CLASS' SITUATION AS GIVEN, ASSUMING (FOR EXAMPLE) THAT WORKING-CLASS REACTION TO CAPITAL'S DEPREDATIONS IS LARGELY PASSIVE. YOU MIGHT SEE THE RELATIVELY GOOD SITUATION OF THE US WORKING CLASS DURING THE 1945-1980 PERIOD AS A RESULT OF THE FACT THAT THIS ASSUMPTION DIDN'T APPLY, I.E., THAT STRUGGLES OF THE 1930S AND AFTER ALLOWED WORKERS TO GET A "PIECE OF THE PIE." THE DECLINE OF WORKERS' POWER SINCE THEN MEANT THAT THE "ABSOLUTE LAW" REASSERTED ITSELF (the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation) = WORLD HISTORY WOULD INDEED BE VERY EASY TO MAKE, IF THE STRUGGLE WERE TAKEN UP ONLY ON CONDITION OF INFALLIBLY FAVORABLE CHANCES. IT WOULD, ON THE OTHER HAND, BE A VERY MYSTICAL NATURE, IF “ACCIDENTS” PLAYED NO PART. THESE ACCIDENTS THEMSELVES FALL NATURALLY INTO THE GENERAL COURSE OF DEVELOPMENT AND ARE COMPENSATED AGAIN BY OTHER ACCIDENTS. BUT ACCELERATION AND DELAY ARE VERY DEPENDENT UPON SUCH “ACCIDENTS,” WHICH INCLUDED THE "ACCIDENT" OF THE CHARACTER OF THOSE WHO AT FIRST STAND AT THE HEAD OF THE MOVEMENT (Amie quotes: Marx to Kugelmann).

northanger said...

NHF 1908 = MARX'S ANALOGY BETWEEN ORIGINAL SIN AND ORIGINAL ACCUMULATION IS APT. BOTH ORIGINAL SIN AND ORIGINAL ACCUMULATION TURN OUR ATTENTION AWAY FROM THE PRESENT TO A MYTHICAL PAST, WHICH SUPPOSEDLY EXPLAINS THE MISFORTUNES THAT PEOPLE SUFFER TODAY (The Theory of Primitive Accumulation) = HIS METHOD WAS ADOPTED BY EVERYBODY FROM BOND INVESTORS AND WALL STREET BANKS TO RATINGS AGENCIES AND REGULATORS. AND IT BECAME SO DEEPLY ENTRENCHED — AND WAS MAKING PEOPLE SO MUCH MONEY — THAT WARNINGS ABOUT ITS LIMITATIONS WERE LARGELY IGNORED = O THOU MIGHTY LIGHT AND BURNING FLAME OF COMFORT; WHICH OPENS THE GLORY OF GOD TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH; IN WHOM THE SECRETS OF TRUTH 6332 HAVE THEIR ABIDING; WHICH IS CALLED IN THY KINGDOM JOY, AND NOT TO BE MEASURED: BE THOU A WINDOW OF COMFORT UNTO ME! = THIS PIECE MADE ME WANT TO VOMIT. QUITE SERIOUSLY - KITCHEN STARTED SPINNING ABOUT AROUND ME AS I READ IT. NOT THE WRITER'S FAULT, HE / SHE (SHE, RIGHT? I HAD TO READ IT SKIPPINGLY DUE TO THE VOMIT PROVOCATION) IS ALL TO THE GOOD. BUT LORD ALMIGHTY, WHAT SORT OF WORLD DO WE LIVE IN?

roger said...

I don't agree with Mike Lebowitz - indeed, Marx specifically references whole centuries where the trend was to higher wages. But he does posit that the internal limit generated within the laws of capitalism will be such that no rise in wages will match the power given to the capitalist by the system of reproducing capital, ie that he capitalist will gain more and faster than the worker, and will use those gains to his advantage. Labor, on the other hand, has a much harder time reproducing its gains. This has nothing to do with labor being passive and everything to do with labor depending on structures to reproduce its gains - say laws concenting pensions, or retirement, or healthcare - that are outside the domain of labor - that is, that employ the state.

Marx would say that labor cannot, within the domain of labor itself, ever achieve bargaining power with the capitalist to the point where its gains are socially reproduced, so that its success in small wars can only eventually lead to the large war - the overthrow of capitalism itself, or of wage labor.

I don't know if Marx is right about the large war, but he's certainly right about the structures labor has to work around.

roger said...

However, Lebowitz does put his finger on one of the problems for Marx in the 40s. See this post of mine last week: http://limitedinc.blogspot.com/2010/03/what-did-proletariat-ever-do-for-me.html

Given the most revolutionary part allotted to the bourgeoisie by Marx, what are we to say of the proletariat? In the manifesto and in the German Ideology, the proletariat play a puzzling role. They are, Marx assures us, the class that, secreted by the industrial system of capitalism, will be its undertakers. But when we get down to it, the bourgeoisie does all the creative work here. To be Nietzschian about this, the proletariat seems to exist solely as a reactionary body – a body of labor and a victim of history. How is such a reactive force supposed to become an active force? We know that the bourgeoisie developed an incentive structure that not only made feudal inhibitions unbearable, but that also served as a weapon to overthrow the feudal structure. Why, though, should we believe this is true about the working class?

northanger said...

while i figure out how to sort iron (the romans, pkd & raw -- thanx 4 reminder!), windows & cheezburgers -- do you need a reminder that i'm not selling you on Lebowitz?

roger said...

North, I didn't think you were! But just as you shouldn't light a match near a keg of gunpowder, so, too, you have to r- emember that I am stuffed to the gills with Marx - and will be for the next week or two - and so I react that way. It's my Karlino! He's all mine, I tell you! I understand his every word!

Surely I don't have to remind you of this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uywIYQEHZLs

northanger said...

how a marxist & hello kitty ever got embroiled in (what the heck are we doing anyway?)... well, whatever! it just makes you wonder!


anyway....Lebowitz also said,

NHF 1107 = WHAT I HOPE BEYOND CAPITAL WILL CONTRIBUTE IS ITS STRESS ON THE ABSOLUTELY VITAL NEED TO GO BACK TO MARX AND ATTEMPT TO RECOVER HIM AS A THINKER = IN THE DECALOGUE OF EXODUS THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT BEGINS WITH THE WORD "ZAKHOR" (REMEMBER); IN DEUTERONOMY IT BEGINS WITH THE WORD "SHAMOR" (OBSERVE) (see here).

there's this brytish recovery project too. now. back to cj stivale! oh, but first, i'm going to use this as a bit of a scratch pad to sort out all that iron.

northanger said...

scratch pad.....


CIORAN » Emil Cioran » Iron Guard » The main symbol used by the Iron Guard was a triple cross (a variant of the triple parted and fretted one), standing for prison bars (as a badge of martyrdom), and sometimes referred to as the "Archangel Michael Cross" ("Crucea Arhanghelului Mihail") » Symbol 45:7

PKD
Notably, much of Dick's work is characterized by the recurrent theme of gnostic deception and false realities, of the humble protagonist who accidentally discovers that the perception he took for granted is in fact a delusion. In Valis it is discovered that, in addition to our satellite A.I. guardian, humankind must contend with the negative influence of the "Empire that never ended". The Roman Empire, we discover, was but one temporal manifestation of a deeper force that intrudes into our world through various places in time, seeking to imprison us in a reality of suffering, hatred, and violence. Dick repetitively states, "The Empire never ended," showing us its dark face behind the mask of new forms of social control.

The Empire's darkness also shows up in individuals who become so cut off from their humanity that they unwittingly serve the Empire (or the Black Iron Prison). Dick meanwhile frequently serves up ironic contrast by showing us machine characters, like android Garson Poole ("The Electric Ant") and the automatic cabbie in Now Wait for Last Year, who exude kindness, social responsibility, and other pro-social characteristics.


RAW
Most philsophers have known, at least since around 500 B.C., that the world perceived by our senses is not "the real world" but a construct we create -- our own private work of art. Modern science began with Galileo's demonstration that color is not "in" objects but "in" the interaction of our senses with objects. Despite this philosophic and scientific knowledge of neurological relativity, which has been more clearly demonstrated with each major advance in instrumentation, we still, due to language, think that behind the flowing, meandering, inter-acting, evolving universe created by perception is one solid monolithic "reality" hard and crisply outlined as an iron bar.

Quantum physics has undermined that Platonic iron-bar "reality" by showing that it makes more sense scientifically to talk only of the inter-actions we actually experience (our operations in the laboratory) ; and perception psychology has undermined the Platonic "reality" by showing that assuming it exists leads to hopeless contradictions in explaining how we actually perceive that a hippopotamus is not a symphony orchestra.


part 2.....

northanger said...

iron guard symbol may point to "structures"? "fasces" = power/authority. "american fasces" is just a basic recognition (however, the last 10 years the USA was doing something different/specific with "power"). John Dee's emblems of power (imho): Golden Talisman (which i see as Enochian forms of fasces, more) & Sigil of Ameth : The Vestal and the Fasces: Hegel, Lacan, Property, and the Feminine, The Vestals, alone of all women, were escorted by the fasces.

googling marx superstructure fasces:

NHF 150 = WHO HOLDS THE FASCES? = THE OFFICE OF THE RAKIA.
NHF 172 = PENES QUERN FASCES SINT = THE VOICE AS (FEMALE) PHALLUS.
NHF 221 = THE PERSON WHO HOLDS THE FASCES = WRITE A BOOK ON WAGE-LABOR.

so what is Capital's role/relationship w/ "fasces"? how does Revolution deal w/ (if at all) "fasces"?

northanger said...

btw, found Lebowitz Oct 2009. Amie's NHF-3924 came first, then Lebowitz NHF-3924 (and NHF-1908) googling chapter twenty-five today. which makes me ask: what do you think of Mark Fischer's Capitalist Realism?

if you're familiar with how the Libra constellation was created (and its relationship to Virgo & Scorpio & that Via Combusta runs from Libra 15° to Scorpio 15° &c -- and Dinah=Virgo), this is interesting...

[+] The seeming paradox posed by the juxtaposition of the symbolizations of the private and the public as well as its eventual explanation is suggested by true and folk etymologies of the terms the Romans used to describe them. The virgin is virgo. The rod bound to form the fasces is virga. Vir is man. A woman who has the virtue of a man—like a Vestal—is a virago. Fasces means "bound." Fas is divine law—that which binds man to god? The Vestal's ritual phallus is fascinus, which means not merely the male organ but also enchantment and the evil eye. It is the source of the English "fascination" and is obviously related to the fasces, but how? Clearly, we are fascinated with the phallus. When we are fascinated, are we spellbound?

From the standpoint of the political philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel and the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, the public and the private serve complementary functions and are mutually constituting. Both the law and the virgin served as the representation of the Other, the external object by which the Roman man was able to define himself as an acting subject—a Roman citizen. The Vestal and the fasces cannot be separated because they are one and the same: virgo is virga is vir; Vesta is fascinus is fasces is fas.

NHF 544 = RUPERT QUOTES AMOS 5:1-2 VIRGO ISRAHEL CECIDIT, NEC FUIT QUI SUSCITARET EAM = THE SYMBOL REPRESENTS THE GREAT SWORD OF THE MAGICIAN, POINT UPPERMOST (Three of Swords).

northanger said...

NHF 1364 = BY HAVING ASTRAEA LEAVE HER BALANCE, SWORD, AND FASCES IN THE HANDS OF PEASANTS, ROSA SUGGESTS THAT JUSTICE MAY BE ABLE TO SURVIVE ON EARTH, BUT ONLY IN THE HANDS OF POOR, SIMPLE, HONEST MEN = BUT THE SUBTLETIES OF THE MODERN GAME - WHICH HAVE NOW, THANKS TO RICHARD RÉTI, GONE QUITE BEYOND CALCULATION INTO THE WORLD OF ÆSTHETIC CREATION - WERE LATENT IN THE ORIGINAL DESIGN (Richard Réti; {12} Book of Thoth).

NHF 369 = JUSTICE APPEARING TO THE PHEASANTS = ELEMENT OF EFFECTIVE CULTURE THAT MAKES ITSELF REAL = LEAF 1A [ZURESK OD ADAPH MAL ZEZ GENO AU MARLAN OH MUZPA] = THERE'S SYNCHRONICITY, THEN THERE'S SERENDIPITY…

NHF 255 = JUSTICE APPEARING TO THE PHEASANTS = ISTA SUNT SECRETA SECRETORUM (These Are The Secrets Of Secrets; Secundus).

NHF 243 = ASTRAIAS ABSCHIED VON DEN HIRTEN = AS THE ROMAN GENERAL WOULD SAY = EZEKIEL 43:16, "ARIEL" → THE LION OF GOD → THE ALTAR (Court of the women) = LA POÉSIE DE MALLARMÉ: ÉTUDE LITTÉRAIRE (Thibaudet on Mallerme).

NHF 272 = POESIE E LETTERE EDITE E INEDITE DI SALVATOR ROSA = THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME.

NHF 744 = QUANDO CINTIA FALCATA IN CIEL RINASCE HÀ DA SERVIR PER CUNA, E COL ZODIACO HANNO INSIEME LE ZONE À FAR LE FASCE = BASED ON A COLLISION OF ACCIDENTAL CIRCUMSTANCES THAT HAPPEN SO UNEXPECTEDLY AND SO SUDDENLY = COMBINING AUTHORITY WITH COMMUNICATION TO CREATE COORDINATION AMONG DISPARATE PARTS (Axxiarg) = FOUR CORNERS OF THE COURT OF THE WOMEN THERE WERE COURTS JOINED <07000 : BILDAD-SHUA-KETURAH-QATAR> (10-Jan-2004) = PROVIDE AN ALTERNATIVE HISTORY, ONE WHICH EMPHASIZES WHAT I BELIEVE TO BE THE REAL HISTORY OF BONY FINGERS (scroll down @ Lebowitz for WORKED TO THE BONE: Race, Class, Power, and Privilege in Kentucky by Pem Davidson Buck; this quote from Class in Kentucky: [Buck] continues, "I need to provide an alternative history, one which emphasizes what I believe to be the real history of bony fingers, the policies that have created them, and resistance to them. It will be a history emphasizing the strategies used by the elite to fool people into agreeing to policies that hurt themselves and many other people. But my real interest is the present, not the past, so I will focus on those moments in the past that were critical in shaping lives in the present" (p. 6)).

northanger said...

correction,

NHF 369 = SALVATOR ROSA'S JUSTICE APPEARING TO THE PHEASANTS.

roger said...

The Peasants, no? Although I like your version better, North. Did you go to the beach?

northanger said...

oh heck. do-over!

NHF 247 = JUSTICE APPEARING TO THE PEASANTS = GUILLAUME FRANÇOIS JOLY DE FLEURY = TEN TO THE FOURTH CONNECTIONS = TO DO WHAT THE LAW PRESCRIBES ({115} The Political Theology of Abbo of Fleury; LEGEM FACERE).

NHF 361 = SALVATOR ROSA'S JUSTICE APPEARING TO THE PEASANTS = THE GENERAL LAW OF CAPITALIST ACCUMULATION.

no beach-going gas money yet :(

NHF 120 = LIVRE CAROLINIENNE (Charlemagne) = LOTS OF FLEURYS!

NHF 253 = LAW, AUTHORITY AND NECESSITY (Abbo of Fleury) = METHODOLOGY AND OCCAM'S RAZOR = RIGOROUS SYSTEMATIC UNFOLDING = SO GREAT IS YOUR BOLDNESS, O SATAN ({128} Secundus) = STANDARD OPERATING TECHNIQUES = STRUCTURE THE PUBLIC OPTION = THAT'S THE TRUEST FORM OF MAGIC = THE NUMBERS OF BINAH ARE : 67 + 672 + 311 + 713 = WENSDAY. 21. MARTII, CIRCA 2. A MERIDIE ({125} Secundus) = WE'RE IN A NICOTINE-DELIVERY BUSINESS.

NHF 264 = 8.3 LAW, AUTHORITY AND NECESSITY = WHAT DID THE BOURGEOISIE EVER DO FOR US?

northanger said...

NHF 3500 = DANTE'S TREATMENT OF VIRGO-ASTRAEA IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE. IN THE PURGATORIO, STATIUS TELLS VIRGIL THAT HE WAS CONVERTED TO CHRISTIANITY BY THE PROPHECY IN THE FOURTH ECLOGUE, A PROPHECY MADE BY ONE WHO COULD NOT SEE HIS OWN WAY BUT HELD A LIGHT BEHIND HIM TO ILLUMINE THE PATHS OF OTHERS: FACESTI COME QUEI CHE VA DI NOTTE, CHE PORTA IL LUME RETRO E SÈ NON GIOVA, MA DOPO SÈ FA LE PERSONE DOTTE, QUANDO DICESTI: 'SECOL SI RINNOVA; TORNA GIUSTIZIA E PRIMO TEMPO UMANO, E PROGENIE DISCENDE DA CIEL NOVA' ({36} Astraea: the imperial theme in the sixteenth century, Frances Yates) = UNDER THE RÉGENCE, THE SCOTTISH ECONOMIST JOHN LAW HAD INTRODUCED FINANCIAL MEASURES THAT WERE MODERN FOR THE TIME: A NATIONAL BANK, EASY CREDIT TO ENCOURAGE INVESTORS, AND PAPER MONEY EXCHANGEABLE FOR BULLION. INVESTOR OVERCONFIDENCE LED TO WILD SPECULATION AFTER 1720, AND WHEN THE BUBBLE BURST, LAW AND HIS POLICIES WERE THOROUGHLY DISCREDITED, AND FRENCH FINANCES WERE IN AS DIRE STRAITS AS THEY HAD BEEN WHEN LOUIS XIV DIED. FLEURY WAS THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE MOMENT (André-Hercule de Fleury, Bishop of Fréjus).

NHF 299 = ANDRÉ-HERCULE DE FLEURY, BISHOP OF FRÉJUS = FLEURY; RELATION TO GREEKS CHANGED BY.

NHF 198 = SECOND COUNCIL OF NICAEA = THE FALSE DECRETALS OF ISIDORE.