Saturday, 14 July 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 17 - Part 16

The point made by Engels about the effect of faster circulation times to the US and India reducing the explosive potential for crises is multiplied in the speed up of circulation, which these systems imply, and these are just part of a much larger planning framework to ensure that outputs are geared closely to match changing consumer requirements, and that inputs are geared to match the needs of those changing outputs. So, Marx says,

"The fact that consumption lives from hand to mouth, changes its linen and its coat as rapidly as it does its opinions and does not wear the same coat ten years running, etc. is connected with the speed of reproduction, or is another expression of it. To an increasing extent consumption—even of articles where this is not demanded by the nature of their use-value—takes place almost simultaneously with production and becomes therefore more and more dependent on the present, coexisting labour (since it is, in fact, exchange of coexisting labour). This takes place in the same degree in which past labour becomes an ever more important factor of production, even though this past itself is after all a very recent and only relative one."

(Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 21)

As Marx puts it, in agreement with Hodgskin, nearly all consumption, whether personal or productive, is actually the consumption of the products of coexistent labour, so that what is consumed is simultaneously what is being produced by coexistent labour.

" The majority of the commodities consumed by the worker in the final form in which they confront him as commodities, are in fact products of simultaneous labour (they are therefore by no means stored up by the capitalist)."

The system runs from the modern EPOS systems used by retailers, which link immediately to their huge warehouse systems, which in turn are increasingly connected to the computer systems of their suppliers, to automatically generate new orders for re-supply. The huge evolution in ICT systems, and in the Internet means that this has moved on significantly even from when Simon Clarke wrote in 1990, 

“Indeed it would be fair to say that the sphere of planning in capitalism is much more extensive than it is in the command economies of the soviet bloc. The scope and scale of planning in giant corporations like Ford, Toyota, GEC or ICI dwarfs that of most, if not all, of the Soviet Ministries. The extent of co-ordination through cartels, trade associations, national governments and international organisations makes Gosplan look like an amateur in the planning game. The scale of the information flows which underpin the stock control and ordering of a single Western retail chain are probably greater than those which support the entire Soviet planning system.” 

(Capital and Class, Winter 1990) 

But, it is probably in the realm of the Internet, where the effect on speeding up the circulation time is greatest, in this respect. An article in The American Banker bemoaned the slowness of electronic payments in the US, pointing out, 

“In the United Kingdom, you can send money to someone else's bank account within a couple of hours. In Mexico, the process takes no more than a minute or two. In Sweden, it happens even faster, via mobile phones. 

Here in the United States, electronic payments move at a snail's pace by comparison. Times vary by bank, but it's common for three, four or five days to elapse before the cash arrives in the recipient's account.” 

In fact, compared to the slowness of payments discussed by Marx, even the US seems extremely rapid. The Internet has made possible not only such almost instantaneous payments direct from your bank account, or credit card account, it has established other money-dealing capitalists, such as Paypal, as means of transmitting money from one place to another more securely and quickly. It has also, of course, speeded up circulation by making credit instantly available over mobile phones, even if the circulation may later be sharply curtailed, as the consequent debts turn bad. 

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