Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 2 September 2011

Gold and Labor Standards - Part 5

The rampant and incurable nostalgia felt for the Gold Standard by most capitalist exponents, from employers to economists and politicians, stems from the belief in its "OBJECTIVITY". It is the fact that the Gold Standard "prices" all commodities, inclusing labour power, in terms of gold, of commodity money. In other words, the ultimate "referent" of prices is not "paper" money - something that can easily and costlessly be "printed" - but rather some "thing", gold, that is "hard" (we still speak of "hard currency") and "rare", which adds to its "value".

Historically, of course, it is the "metallic" qualities of gold that make it the ideal standard of "value": its "liquefaction" (it can be melted) and "malleability" (it can take any shape), and therefore can be weighed with extreme precision down to fractions of a gram. But the "hardness" of gold refers mostly to the fact that it cannot be "produced" quickly or easily and not in great quantities, and to its durability - so that in times of "crisis" it can be "hoarded" and "stored" easily by individual owners. In other words, what is "peculiar" about gold is that it can be a "private" possession, an object, that cannot be easily interfered or tampered with "politically".

So here is the secret to the secret attraction of gold: it is the fact that it reinforces the supreme capitalist delusion that "value" is a "thing" that can be "possessed" by individuals, not something that is a "political creature" or entity that can be "manipulated". Gold allows a belief (fanciful and mythological) in the "automatic operation of the capitalist economy", in the "self-regulating market mechanism" based on the "free and equal exchange" between free and self-interested individuals!!

That is the secret of gold, and why the bourgeoisie clings nostalgically to it as the "sacred truth" of capitalism. Gold reminds the bourgeoisie of the "tangibility and solidity and hardness and possessiveness" of its rule over living labour - of its "naturalness". By contrast, the Labor Standard is based on "fiat" currency - arbitrary, easily counterfeited, "valueless", "soft", devalued by inflation. Above all, the Labor Standard reminds capitalists that their rule is neither "automatic" nor "natural", but exquisitely "political". It shows workers that their "living labour" is "social labour" and not "individual labours" that can be "measured" and "paid" separately and "objectively" by the "market mechanism".

The Labor Standard that we have now shows the interdependence, the organic solidarity involved in the labour process and in the process of production, right down to that of distribution and reproduction of society. We will look at these matters at a later time.

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