Friday, 5 December 2014

The Long Wave - Part 2

Marx never dealt with the long wave, for a very good reason. The bulk of his economic analysis was undertaken between the mid 1840's and the mid 1860's. As can be seen, this period coincides with the second upswing. In other words, it was impossible, at this stage, to be able to detect that any such cycle existed. However, Marx does deal with economic cycles, their causes, and their nature, in Capital, and he did recognise that two important factors in their periodicity was the longevity of fixed capital, and the nature of innovation. These are both key factors for the long wave.

Marx writes, in respect of the role of the fixed capital.

“As the magnitude of the value and the durability of the applied fixed capital develop with the development of the capitalist mode of production, the lifetime of industry and of industrial capital lengthens in each particular field of investment to a period of many years, say of ten years on an average. Whereas the development of fixed capital extends the length of this life on the one hand it is shortened on the other by the continuous revolution in the means of production, which likewise incessantly gains momentum with the development of the capitalist mode of production. This involves a change in the means of production and the necessity of their constant replacement, on account of moral depreciation, long before they expire physically. One may assume that in the essential branches of modern industry this life-cycle now averages ten years. However we are not concerned here with the exact figure. This much is evident: the cycle of interconnected turnovers embracing a number of years, in which capital is held fast by its fixed constituent part, furnishes a material basis for the periodic crises. During this cycle business undergoes successive periods of depression, medium activity, precipitancy, crisis. True, periods in which capital is invested differ greatly and far from coincide in time. But a crisis always forms the starting-point of large new investments. Therefore, from the point of view of society as a whole, more or less, a new material basis for the next turnover cycle.”

And in relation to innovation, Marx writes,

“Now it so happens that in spite of the constant daily revolutions in the mode of production, now this and now that larger or smaller portion of the total capital continues to accumulate for certain periods on the basis of a given average proportion of those constituents, so that there is no organic change with its growth, and consequently no cause for a fall in the rate of profit. This constant expansion of capital, hence also an expansion of production, on the basis of the old method of production which goes quietly on while new methods are already being introduced at its side, is another reason, why the rate of profit does not decline as much as the total capital of society grows.”

Moreover, elsewhere Marx sets out what the spur for this innovation is.

“Take, for example, the rise in England of agricultural wages from 1849 to 1859. What was its consequence? The farmers could not, as our friend Weston would have advised them, raise the value of wheat, nor even its market prices. They had, on the contrary, to submit to their fall. But during these eleven years they introduced machinery of all sorts, adopted more scientific methods, converted part of arable land into pasture, increased the size of farms, and with this the scale of production, and by these and other processes diminishing the demand for labour by increasing its productive power, made the agricultural population again relatively redundant. This is the general method in which a reaction, quicker or slower, of capital against a rise of wages takes place in old, settled countries.”

Similar innovation was provoked by the introduction of the Factory Acts, and the Ten Hours Act. Marx makes the following comments in respect of the English earthenware manufacturers, who claimed they would be put out of business by the legislation.

“In 1864, however, they were brought under the Act, and within sixteen months every “impossibility” had vanished.

'The improved method,” called forth by the Act, “of making slip by pressure instead of by evaporation, the newly-constructed stoves for drying the ware in its green state, &c., are each events of great importance in the pottery art, and mark an advance which the preceding century could not rival.... It has even considerably reduced the temperature of the stoves themselves with a considerable saving of fuel, and with a readier effect on the ware.'

In spite of every prophecy, the cost-price of earthenware did not rise, but the quantity produced did, and to such an extent that the export for the twelve months, ending December, 1865, exceeded in value by £138,628 the average of the preceding three years.”

(Capital I, Chapter 15 p 447)

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