Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday 4 March 2017


Among the many rationalizations of the phenomenon loosely called “globalization” advanced by its stalwart defenders, two are paramount: the first is that the decline of living standards in core capitalist economies – mainly through the loss of manufacturing jobs – is due to automation rather than to the export of capitalist investments to peripheral economies (often misnamed as “emerging markets”); and the other rationalization is that in the scheme of things the loss of manufacturing jobs does no great harm to core capitalist economies because it leads to a transition to “the service sector”. Finally, a third defense of globalization by its apologists is that, whatever harm globalization has wrought, at the very least it has brought millions of people in peripheral economies “out of misery”. We will put this last argument out of its own misery later in this intervention, but first let us deal with the first two.

The purpose of “automation” in a capitalist economy is always to increase profitability. But profitability means either the disenfranchisement of existing workers through loss of employment and therefore the creation of a greater “reserve army of workers” in the core economies; or else their disenfranchisement through the export of those jobs replaced by automation to peripheral economies whose workers are currently disenfranchised. In both cases, automation – or what we call “the capitalistic use of machines” – is a capitalist strategy directly to increase profits, which in practice means a greater power of capital to exchange dead labor (“products” or “goods” or “wages”, their monetary equivalent) with the living labour of workers – again, either by expanding the reserve army of labor internally or else by extending the wage relation externally to “emerging markets” that were not subjected to capitalist exploitation in the first place.

Clearly, therefore, the essential aim of “globalization” is the facilitation of the movement of finance capital across national boundaries with the aim of reducing the political pressure of workers on national capitalists by neutralizing the ability of nation-states to represent the interests of workers. Whereas capital has the historical effect of “re-composing” workers politically into a “class”, the aim of globalization is to “de-compose” the international working class politically. Thus, whilst it is true in one sense that globalization helps workers in “emerging markets” compose themselves politically, it is also true that this positive effect is vastly negated by a series of countervailing factors: - first, workers in core capitalist economies suffer through decreased political and economic leverage; second, larger portions of the existing potential working population are expropriated and subjected to the rule of capital; thirdly, this leads to enormous catastrophic pressures being placed on the environment – something that, alas, we are all witnessing all too painfully. Last but not least, the pressure on global resources from the “relative overpopulation” induced by globalized capitalism leads to a heightening of political conflicts within and between nations – something that we call “the Hot Peace” as a continuation and escalation of the Cold War.

These are all theoretical classification of the empirical historical reality of capitalism that we have developed in this Blog over the years. Our next interventions will be excerpts from my Schumpeterbuch (book devoted to Joseph Schumpeter) where we draw the intrinsic theoretico-historical link between innovation-automation and capitalist profitability or accumulation. Cheers.

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