Marxian Social Theory: Part II

The Immiseration Thesis

In the last mini-lecture on a marxist critique of capitalism, I listed some of the more positive effects of capitalism on a number of most important human needs and human concerns. These positivities, taken as a group, comprise the EMBOURGEOISMENT Thesis. Most economists, political scientists and, yes, sociologists in the USA tend to accept the embourgeosiment thesis...things are getting better and better for more and more people as capitalist extends to all domains of life and to all parts of the world. There is much to be said for the E. Thesis taking the world as a whole and looking at the effects of capitalism over the past 300 years...compared to all other previous political economies: hunting/gathering; farming/herding; slavery; feudality, and colonialist forms of the above, capitalism looks very, very good.

And, too, in the discussion of the negativities of capitalism below, one must never forget these accomplishments...the freedoms of the market, of politics, of religion and the improvements in housing, food, education, transport, communications--all driven by capitalism-- are most helpful to the human project.

Yet there are this mini-lecture, I will list and explain some of the more common negative aspects of capitalism found in the following lectures, I will help you think about alternatives to both unfettered capitalism and overly-fettered socialism.

1. Capitalism tends to disemploy people. In all previous economic systems, everyone worked from an early age---except a tiny elite. Capitalists in a quest for both profits and effficiency, try to lower costs and increase production. There are three general costs; costs of capital, costs of raw materials and labor costs. The first two involve other capitalists and tend to be protected...only labor costs are reducible in a free labor market. There are several ways to do this:

a. use ever better, ever more efficient machines...this takes more and more technical knowledge...and works well.

b. get more productive labor out of existing workers by a whole series of tactics not the least of which is the speed-up.

c. turn to marginalized peoples; use ancient systems of exclusion to obtain cheaper labor...women, children, 3rd world workers and other marginalized workers...prisoners, 'retarded,' etc.

d. use state power to prevent workers' union/organizing.

e. use temps, contract laborers or best of all, none at all.

The best of all possible worlds, for each capitalist, taken one at time is to automate every element of production and eliminate all paid labor entirely...

The result of this 'tendential law' of capitalism as marxists put it, is an ever growing 'surplus population.' Note that people are not surplus to their families, to their religions, to the human project; they are simply surplus to the labor needs of the efficient capitalist.

2. Capitalism tends to economic crisis. There are three such cycles of ups and downs in the short history of capitalism...and a lot of controv- ersy about whether they exist or are mixed.

The three are:

a. Kondratieff curves...cycles of boom and bust which come along about every 30-50 US history, 1830, 1873, 1893, and 1930 mark these great depressions...[there were two 'great ditches' in the Wizard of Oz...the depressions of 1873 and 1893...Baum lived throught both and went bankrupt in the second...lots more in the book].

b. Kutznet's cycles of about 15 years and

c. mini-cycles of from 3-5 years' duration.

Keynesian economic theory was supposed to solve this problem of capitalism...Pres. Nixon said, 'We are all keynesians now.' But in recent years, the ability of the state to moderate depressions is under heavy critique...costs too much...deficit grows and grows.

3. Capitalism tends to promote the five kinds of crime I set forth for you in an earlier mini-lecture:

a. Street crime grows as the surplus population tries to 're-unite production and distribution' in theft, burglary, robbery, arson, and various con games.

b. White collar crimes grows as managers and professional seek to attain middle class status and keep it in the face of:

1) divorce,
2) competition,
3) depressions,
4) other fiscal problems not excluding a status panic which developes prior to a capitalist system, each must look after one's own future...the middle class can steal from clients and employ- ers...can use the trust of their positions to build portfolio.

c. Corporate crime grows:

1) during economic crises,
2) to evade state regulations,
3) to force out competitors,
4) to corner markets,
5) to obtain cheaper, faster labor,
6) to gain access to raw materials,
7) to control the political process.

d. Organized crime grows: the surplus labor force can sell drugs, sex, stolen goods and hire out as enforcers or arsonists in order to reunite prod/dist. Liberal capitalism turns every thing into a commodity to sell on the open market...drugs, sex, gaming, arms, whatever is forbidden by the religious sensibility of the general population.

e. Political crime grows at the state tries to protect the capital- ist class from workers, customers and foreign capitalists. The capitalist state invades other countries in order to get raw mater- ials [Desert Storm was more about oil than about freedom or about Iranian aggressors]...or to gain access to markets...WWI and WWII were probably more about markets and raw materials than about democracy and social justice...ask the Germans and Japanese.

5. Another way to think of the immiseration thesis and the points above is in the tendency of capitalists to 'externalize' costs. Costs can be lowered by having the state pay for the education of workers; having the state or women take care of the injured/crippled workers; having the state pay for infra-structure [roads, sewers, bridges, docks, etc]. Costs can be externalized to the future by deficit spending or by environmental pollution. If you or I were capitalists, we would do the same thing...I would anyway.

6. Capitalism tends to create layer after layer of 'false needs.' In order to expand markets, it is useful to use psychology, sociology, mass media and the drama of sex and violence to create a demand for 'surplus production.' Marx spoke of this as the 'realization problem.' Since the is ever more production with ever fewer workers to buy it up, goods accumulate...there are several solutions to the problem of surplus production...but advertizing and the generation of 'false' needs is important...almost 200 billion dollars were spent last year to 'colonize consciousness.'

There are several more 'tendential laws' of capitalism in the litera- ture...I will continue this mini-lecture next week and go on to more encouraging topics after that...all this looks hopeless but hang in-- there will be better days...if we are good and wise enough.


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