Monday, 31 October 2011

From Weber to the Neoclassics


In “the Protestant Work Ethic” Weber believes to have identified “a specifically bourgeois economic ethic”. We argued above that that is not so, and that Weber is wrong. And he is wrong for reasons that are revealing and instructive and above all politically essential to our “fight against labor”. First of all, Weber refers to an “economic” ethic – which already casts the net wider than he had intended by “specifying” the bourgeois ethic as a “work” ethic. And the fact that “work” does not make up “the entirety” of the “economic” for the bourgeoisie is absolutely vital, crucial and essential to bourgeois ideology. Were the bourgeoisie to concede that “work” was the real source of all “profits” and indeed of “value”, then it would have a very difficult time arguing that “capital” is the most important “factor of production” and that indeed it is “capital” that makes production at all possible!



Weber almost tacitly concedes this point by referring to an “economic ethic” and also by conceding that –



To-day the spirit of religious asceticism—whether finally, who knows?—has escaped from the cage, but victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical [181] foundations, needs its support no longer.”



This demonstrates that, at most, the Protestant work ethic was only a “support” for the bourgeoisie – certainly not a “necessity” and indeed it did not even serve “to originate” capitalist industry because, as we argued earlier, it is not the belief that “time is money” that creates capitalist industry but rather “the fact” (!) that “time is money” that makes possible and encourages the belief, the “ethic”!



But the notion that “time is money” does not mean in the least that “work is money”! As we saw in the quotations given above, Weber already concedes that “business astuteness” is both independent of and originates “much earlier than” the protestant work ethic. Weber himself argues against his own thesis when he makes the following proposition:



“The ability of mental concentration, as well as the absolutely essential feeling of obligation to one's job, are here most often combined with a strict economy which calculates the possibility of high earnings, and a cool self-control and frugality which enormously increase performance. This provides the most favourable foundation for the conception of labour as an end in itself, as a calling which is necessary to capitalism.”



The contradiction, the non sequitur, in Weber’s reasoning is blindingly obvious: it is not “the conception of labour as an end in itself” that makes it “a calling necessary to capitalism”! It is rather “a strict economy which calculates the possibility of high earnings, and a cool self-control and frugality which enormously increase performance” that “provide the most favourable foundation for the conception of labour as an end in itself”!! In other words, “labour as an end in itself” does not and cannot provide “a specifically bourgeois economic ethic” – but rather it can provide “a specifically socialist economic ethic”!!



The centrality of the Arbeit is not and cannot be the basis of “the specifically bourgeois economic ethic” that Weber is so desperately searching! The idea that “labour…is necessary to capitalism”, that “labour is the only source of value and of wealth” – that kind of miserable faith in “labor”and philosophy of “labor” belongs to all the “do-gooders” of the rational socialism and of Keynesianism! This belief, which was central to the Classical Political Economy and to the “ideology” of Keynesianism is something that the bourgeoisie could never accept for its “economic science” and that it could embrace solely as the “ideology of socialism”, as the new opium of the masses!



Because the very notion of “labor” as an “exactly calculable”, “rational measure of profit” is precisely dependent – and indeed it is “the creature”! – of “capital” itself!!

There could simply be no “labor” without “the regular discipline of the factory”, without the political command of the capitalist that transforms “living labour” into the “equivalent of dead objectified labour”, that transmutes – by means of sheer violence and coercion – the living activity of workers into a “quantity” exactly and rationally and systematically “calculable” in terms of “the wage”, in terms of its own pro-duct, in terms of “wage-basket goods”!!



For this “trans-mutation” or meta-morphosis to occur – this trans-substantiation! (like Jesus turning rocks into bread and fish) – the living labour of workers must be turned first into “the capitalist organization of labor”, which is “the rational organization of free labour”, which becomes “the regular discipline of the factory imposed on free labour”, which turns finally into “rational Socialism”, into “the Problematik of modern Socialism” and, at last (!!!), the “economic science” of Keynes in the ‘General Theory’!!



Weber draws the “wrong conclusions” from much more insightful and revealing “premises”:



“The ability of mental concentration, as well as the absolutely essential feeling of obligation to one's job, are here most often combined with a strict economy which calculates the possibility of high earnings, and a cool self-control and frugality which enormously increase performance.”



But in Weber’s own admission, it is not “labor” that leads to “profits”: it is rather “strict economy and frugality” that lead to “the possibility of high earnings” and of “enormously increased performance”. Weber commits the extraordinary non sequitur and mistake of not seeing that neither “strict economy” nor “frugality” have anything whatsoever to do with “labor”! If “labor” were the true source of “earnings and profits”, then the “socialist Utopia” would finally be realized and the capitalist class could be wiped out forever! How can “labor as an end in itself”, then, even in our wildest dreams form the basis for “a specifically bourgeois economic ethic”?



But how can “the ability of mental concentration” and “strict economy” and “frugality” – which are all negative and passive qualities, more “saving” rather than “investment” – how can these “passive” habits lead to “positive wealth”, to “value”, to the active generation of “profits”? How can “frugality” lead to “higher earnings and increased performance or productivity and value”?



In truth, Weber ought to have known what “the specifically bourgeois economic theory” behind this argument was! - Because he was quite aware of the Neoclassical Revolution or the neoclassical theory of Marginal Utility developed by Gossen and Jevons and Menger, and in part even by Marshall – and in particular he ought to have been aware of the significant addition to this Revolution in “economic science” operated by the Viennese professor Eugen Bohm-Bawerk, “the bourgeois Marx” and perhaps the most significant and influential member of the Austrian School – at least according to his great and most scholarly pupil – Joseph Schumpeter.



To trace carefully this last passage – from rational socialism to Keynes, from “time” to “money” – we must then travel to Austria, follow the Inn to the Danube and breathe suavely the opulent atmosphere of fin-de-siecle Vienna as we traverse the “counter-revolutionary stream” of the Neoclassical Revolution.

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