Saturday, 3 November 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 18 - Part 37

Barton's data, however, is of interest, Marx says, because it shows the movement of wages, and of corn prices.
Wheat per
Wages in pints
of wheat
1742 to 1752
1761 to 1770
1780 to 1790
1795 to 1799
1800 to 1808

According to Barton, wages rose from the middle of the 17th century to near the middle of the 18th century. During that period, the price of corn fell by 35%. Barton also cites sources showing that between 1688-1754, Parliament passed 123 Bills for the enclosure of land, but between 1754-1813, that number rose to 3,315. A significant element in that would have come from the passing of the 1801 General Enclosure Act. The significance is that the process of enclosure was an indication of the spread of capitalist farming, and consequent rise in productivity, and agricultural production. According to Barton, despite the fact that, in the latter period, the progress in cultivation was 25 times greater than in the former period, not only was all of this additional output domestically consumed, but an increasing amount now had to be imported

Marx says that Barton calculates, from good sources, that 

““the number of inhabitants in 1750” [was] “5,946,000, making an increase since the revolution of 446,000, or 7,200 per annum” (l.c., p. 14). 

“At the lowest estimate then […] the progress of population of late years has been ten times more rapid than a century ago. Yet it is impossible to believe, that the accumulation of capital has been ten times greater” (l. c., p. 14).” (p 584-5) 

This illustrates the point, Marx says, that the demand for labour-power is not a function of the means of subsistence, produced annually, but 

“how large a portion of living labour enters into the annual production of fixed and circulating capital. This determines the size of the variable capital in relation to constant.” (p 585) 

In other words, it depends upon the technical composition of capital, which itself is technologically determined. But, this technological determinacy is itself conditioned by social relations. When labour is in excess supply, and wages are low/profits high, there is no incentive to seek out new labour-saving technologies (intensive accumulation). Instead, the same technologies are used, more extensively, with only minor changes, and thereby employ additional amounts of labour. Only organic improvements in technology arise, and so the technical composition of capital remains relatively stable.  This is the basis of the so called productivity mystery in Britain, which is no mystery at all.  Productivity growth is appallingly low, because from the late 1980's onwards, British governments focused on building a low wage economy whilst engaging in a delusional search for wealth via an inflation of asset prices.  So long as there is a supply of low wage labour, there is no incentive either for existing business to engage in investment in labour-saving technologies, or for capital to migrate from these low productivity spheres to higher productivity industries.

Only when existing labour supplies start to be used up, on this basis, and wages rise, does the incentive to search out new labour-saving technologies arise. Its on this basis that a new Innovation Cycle begins, technology is revolutionised, the technical composition of capital rises, and a relative surplus population is created. 

“Barton explains the remarkable increase in population which took place almost all over Europe during the last 50 to 60 years, from the increased productivity of the American mines, since this abundance of precious metals raised commodity prices more than wages, thus in fact, lowering the latter and causing the rate of profit to rise (l.c., pp. 29–35).” (p 585) 

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