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September 27, 2009

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Jasper

Hello Jodi,

The counter-argument here doesn't make much sense to me: I'm not sure where you locate this diminished expectation of growth, but it would be a very curious thing for a capitalist or investor to expect low growth in the period 45-73, since the fact of the matter is this: *despite high levels of taxation,* profit rates remained high. A capitalist who expected low growth would have been a curiously self-defeating one, no? I think the point that the pamphleteers are making is this: from 45-73, high taxes and high profit rates went hand in hand; it was a win-win situation. Once this was no longer the case, capitalists went on the offensive. The counter-argument you give above is really close to the idea that the problem with capitalism is that people are greedy. The changed situation of neoliberalism not just the result of expectations or desires (or a failure of political will), but rather the result of the congelation of those expectations and desires in inert forms that react back on the will.

As for the claims about the working class, again I think you're misreading: to reproduce the bourgeoisie *is* to reproduce the working class. And I think that they are right to point out that the university has been, for the last few decades, involved in a proletarianization of the managerial-technical class (while still producing an elite class). An earlier version I saw had more stuff about the professional class. But, in any case, college grads these days know what they can expect, for the most part. . .

Tim Kreiner

Thanks, Jodi, for your engaged reading of this curious little document. But I wonder whither the sustainability of high levels of taxation absent high rates of profit, which after all made possible the old Fordist dream of exchanging labor discipline for distributional shares of corporate profits?

The withering away of that compromise alongside globally declining rates of profit and rising consumer, corporate and national debt; in tandem with the deregulation and privatization of capital mobility throughout the 70s and 80s; that lead to the by- now well-documented and astronomical increase in the polarization of wealth, alongside a leveling of tax rates; seems to me what's at issue here. Others tell this tale better than I, but it is a tale oft-told. Moreover, as Giovanni Arrighi, Robert Brenner, Sylvia Federici, David Harvey, Naomi Klein et al conspire pretty convincingly to show (to my mind), the withering away of the economic conditions of possibility underwriting that old Fordist dream is one and the same as the withering away of the so-called semi-autonomy of this or that cultural arena--education, family, religion, art, leisure-time--as capital is forced to subsume ever more of social life beneath its logics of valorization in order to combat continuously falling rates of profit.

Virtually all the accounts of social life from the 70s on (Baudrillard, Debord, Harvey, Jameson etc., to name the most obvious)--whether made in the name postmodernism, society of the spectacle, information age, etc.--agree in this regard. Taken together with accounts of neoliberalism and globalization (Arrighi, Brenner, Federici, Harvey, Klein et al) that flesh out those cultural narratives by demonstrating convincingly the then-invisible, now all-too- apparent economic orchestrations of those cultural changes, it seems possible, at least, to entertain the notion that neither the economic nor the cultural conditions that permitted public funding through taxation of a semi-autonomous University (however defined) any longer prevail.

In that situation, then, the issue may well be less whether the University reproduces the working or the middle class per se, than that it continues to reproduce social relations (inclusive of the managerial middle and technocracy you note) on the basis of a class society whose conditions of possibility are crumbling all around it. On a day when the NYT reports a 6:1 worker:job ratio, that seems virtually assured to be a real possibility.

Obviously to put things this way is to deal in broad brushstrokes and name-dropping. No doubt we could both do much better. I just mean to indicate the possibility that the situation at which the Communique critique is leveled could, legitimately, be taken to be one where the hopeful solutions of anaphoric funding you propose sadly no longer obtain as viable realities...

Nate

hi Jodi,
I think you're right that the "the university reproduces the working class" thing is too neat, but your "no, it reproduces the middle class and/or bourgeoisie" is equally so. What really strikes me in the piece, though, is this line: "a period in which capital no longer needs us as workers", where "us" (given the preceding bits) is not "us who are in college" but "the working class." That's simply silly.

cheers,
Nate

Jodi

Tim and Jasper,

The economic point I'm making comes from Dumenil and Levy, Capital Resurgent (David Harvey uses their argument quite a bit in his Brief History of Neoliberalism). Their point: "in the 1970s the rate of capital profitability had significantly declined." My point with regard to the communique: the earlier Fordist/Keynesian formation did not presuppose or rely on the high profit expectations that came to be normal or expected in the nineties (and that the 70s and 80s were struggles over this). So, my point is that capitalists didn't have the same expectations for growth that they do now, that the environment wasn't as cut throat as it is now, that finance wasn't as dominant as it is now, that there was more of a social welfare compromise (and that CA's failure to fund education/prop 13 was one of the steps toward destroying that compromise). So, counter Justin, I don't think it was irrational for capitalists to expect lower rates of profit then.

Is this the same as the problem of capitalism is greed? There is an element of that, sure (but that in no way implies that greed is the only problem of capitalism or that greed is the best term for designating pursuit of profit, market share, dominance, etc).

Again, I think the communique is wrong if it holds that from 43-73 high profits and high taxes went hand in hand. My understanding of the Keynesian post-war compromise (social contract) is a whole set of understood agreements regarding acceptable inequality (CEOs don't make more than 50 times their workers), lower profits (because workers are paid more), higher taxes (to sustain public projects and something like a public good), less militant labor organizing, and continued efforts to protect the social-economic security/supremacy of white men (against claims for equality from a variety of positions). Much of the political struggle in the 70s and 80s was against the supremacy of white men even as the economic infrastructure of the previous decades was decaying.

Am I implying that the Keynesian compromise would have survived the economic upheaval of the 70s without the factor of capitalist greed? Absolutely not--I don't think that economies are best understood in terms of some kind of equilibrium that is only occasionally out of whack. But I am emphasizing that there has been a change in economic and political expectations.

Conditions for a public university: this is a first and foremost a political question and not an economic one. Any attempt to make it primarily economic relies on keeping some factors static--like corporate earnings, CEO salaries, primacy of the finance sector--and treating the benefits of governments as some sort of consumer items.

For me, it makes more sense not about how capital is forced to go one way or another but how capital is freed to go different ways or how it forces itself one way or another (this is in response to Tim).

Cultural conditions for funding: these are produced through political struggle, through ideological warfare. The right has done a good job convincing many people that there is no value to thought, that intellectuals are useless at best, dangerous at worse, that faith and one's gut matter more than critical thinking, that history is irrelevant (although Founding Fathers are good to invoke every once and a while), that the only thing that matters is the very economic/social security that they have made impossible.

Funding: the only 'impossibilities' are matters of political will.

That said, the unemployment/under employment situation is dire and likely to keep getting worse (over the next decades). The solutions are too important to be left to the market.

Nate--you are right on 'too neat.' And I agree with your critical point regarding capital no longer needing the working class; it seems clearer that capital no longer needs a bunch of managers, techno-crats, etc but of course always needs actual workers. Yet, as I think you would agree, in the US many manufacturing jobs have moved off shore. And, yet more problematically, the stupidity of capitalism has employed too many people in positions rooted in waste and over-consumption (I'm thinking of the auto industry as it tried to make cars into disposable consumer items or the home construction industry that started way too many buildings).

jane

Jodi (and I guess Nate) — I'll pass over the oddity of "first and foremost a political question and not an economic one," as if water could be first and foremost an oxygen question and not a hydrogen one."

Your description of capitalism's history is, well, not Harvey's, despite your invocation of his name — and not that of Brenner, Arrighi, Mandel, Federici, Negri, or a zillion others.

Two basic points: one, the highest rate of profit post-1973 was lower than the lowest rate of profit in the years 48-73. So the idea that the Nineties were a period of high profit expectation, overall or outside of a few isolated counter-tendential sectors, is simply false. There was indeed a focusing of profit in a few non-productive sectors (financial and asset equity) that was exactly complementary to the "tax revolt" that begins in the mid-Seventies.

And the other basic point is that, lacking a productive industrial economy, capital post-1973 needs exactly an increasing percentage of "managers, technocrats," etc, in relation to manual labor. As the industrial-productive processes grow ever more efficient via competition, they require fewer and fewer deskilled laborers to operate, but more and more command-and-control system managers to handle the increasing complexities of automation, of global structure, of just-in-time delivery. This is true from agriculture to the auto industry to the only actual profit centers of the post-boom, the financial services which are all managers and technocrats.

This is the kernel of Mike Davis's Planet of Slums: that superfluous labor is piling up catastrophically in the shantytowns of the world, right next to piles of un- and underused capital.

Let's try to tell the story right.

Jodi

I don't think the analogy with water helps get 'the story right.' It suggests that politics and the economy are two natural elements of an organic totality.

Re Davis: I guess I don't read him as treating people as un or underused capital, which would suggest neoliberal presumptions that he doesn't seem to hold. The superfluous position of the newly urban populations of mega-cities should be specified: superfluous in terms of the current structure of capitalism, employment opportunities in the official economy, the capacity of the state to count them. After all, the people work in all sorts of ways that disrupt easy economic calculations--they work in tertiary economies and other forms of non-capitalist exchange.

In the recent recession, many of the job losses have been in the finance and advertising sectors, because capitalism doesn't need so many 'command and control system managers to handle the increasing complexities of automation etc.' (I think this is also true for the recession of 2000-2001 but I might be wrong.)

I might be missing your point, but it seems lopsided to think that more managers are needed to manage fewer people. It also does not seem to be the same point as the shift to a symbolic or information economy, which emphasizes less management than different sorts of skills (computer programming, call-centers, etc)

On the rate of profit--I'm not sure where the disagreement or argument is. I said that there was a declining rate of profit in the 70s. Looking at Dumenil and Levy's graph of the rate of profit in the US and Europe from 1965 to 1995, it is not the case that the highest rate after the 70s is lower than the lowest rate in the 70s. Is the profit rate lower after the 1975? Yes--I didn't deny this point but actually mentioned it. So what's the disagreement?

Jodi

A couple of additions from Dumenil and Levy:

--in the US, the rate of profit reached the level of the early 1970s in 1997; D and L attribute this increase to the growth of the productivity of capital and the slowing down of wage increases (I believe that Alan Greenspan referred in part to this slow down when he mentioned the traumatized worker)

--at the same time, D and L point out that the restoration of the rate of profit should have resulted in a more 'significant resumption of capital accumulation and growth, carrying employment with it.' So why not a restoration of growth? The answer involves finance. They write: "The restoration of the domination of finance in neoliberalism is an event of a political nature, a direction expression of the class struggle."

jane

Jodi writs: "Re Davis: I guess I don't read him as treating people as un or underused capital,..." — huh? who said that? What I actually wrote is this: "superfluous labor is piling up catastrophically in the shantytowns of the world, right next to piles of un- and underused capital."

Do you see how, in that sentence, the people are one thing and the capital is another, hence their ability to be next to each other? If you aren't reading, it makes it a little hard to grasp your responses, I should say.

Jodi

Jane--I should put this then as a question: what do you mean by un or under-used capital? what sort of capital do you mean?

Paul

Re: Jasper and Tim on Jodi,

Your posts seem to suggest that the low profit rates post-73 determined a corporate interest to defund education and so forth. Ok, so once profit rates rebound is there a point where corporate capital says, "ok, we are happy now" -- a kind of market generated point where corporate capital says "ok, we have adequate levels of profitability, so let's fund some education now"? Or is there another factor, one that Jodi is attempting to point to? That is, certain levels of profitability or inequality can be perceived as problems, others as unproblematic, if not good? And isn't politics, in some measure, about creating counter-forces to the corporate interest in ever-increasing profit rates to force corporate capital to accept more humane norms? In the process, this would also involve changing what society perceives to be acceptable in terms of corporate profit rates, economic inequalities, to say nothing of literature, art, time spent with friends, and other important but non-quantifiable values necessary for a humanistic society.

jane

"Underused capital"is a fairly common expression for, e.g., factories (fixed capital) operating at relatively low capacity (and indeed, historically lowered capacity usage for factories is one of the leading characteristics of the current crisis). Unused capital, similarly, includes everything from empty factories, to all those cars sitting on the docks with no one buying them, to all the actual money capital that has no outlet for profitable investment.

In turn, capital needs fewer workers to operate at capacity, both for any given mass of capital, and as a ratio against the other portions of capital (including technologies of management, including managers); this is exactly the function known as the change in the organic composition of capital.

So a combination of underused fixed capital and changes in the OCC means a relatively decreasing mass of laborers, despite your and Nate's assertion that it's "too neat." Is there a messy description that contradicts this?

Jodi

I thought that I was agreeing with Nate's claim that it is too neat to say that the university produces the working class and likewise too neat to say that the university produces the bourgeoisie.

The other part of his comment that I agreed to I read as the assertion that capitalism can't function without workers, in other words, I was assenting to what I assumed underpinned his remark, namely, the point that capital couldn't function with total automation (for a variety of reasons, including fixed costs of technology/inability to extract surplus value, loss of consumers able to purchase commodities, upheaval as part of large scale unemployment).

Jasper

Paul,

Not to speak for anyone else, I'd say the answer is no, there is no *natural* point where capitalists decide to start funding education, etc., again after profit rates return to normal. It's just this kind of one-sided voluntaristic notion of historical change that I was arguing against--what would bring about this change is class-struggle, but capital might resist this change *less*, as it did in the post-war settlement, if it thought public subsidies were not in conflict with high or moderate profit rates. If it's one or the other, then you'll have a war. . .This is all very abstract, but no less true. And, in any case, it's a moot point, because, if you think as I do, profit rates *never* recovered after '73, except for 1995-2000. (Dumenil and Levy disagree, of course, and think there was a recovery starting in the 80s). You can create counter-forces to capital, sure, but those have, for the most part, not been very successful when they went against the very basis of accumulation w/o attempting to uproot production for profit altogether. It's all or nothing, there, I'm afraid. If you want public education in a context of production for profit, you'll have to make the case that this is *in the best interest* of capital, which is precisely how this thing is no getting sold here at California (note, also, that this is how the argument for health care gets made by progressives). I don't think that's the moment we live in; in other words, I think that even if you were, though political force, able to convince the state to offer up massive public subsidies (other than for arms and banks), eventually you'd have to deal with the problem of the mode of production, because this would not return the economy, at least in the US, to some sort of healthy rate of growth. As for "changing what society perceives to acceptable," I think that's chimerical. Capitalists don't operate according to what's acceptable, only according to what's possible.

Paul

Jasper,

If you are saying that corporate profits, executive compensation, wage and non-wage benefits are contingent upon class struggle--political mediation, interventions, and struggle--then there is no argument from me.

I do find a bit confusing your assessment of optimistic or pessimistic conditions. It sounds like when capital is at its strongest, and its power most overwhelming, popular struggles have the best hope of success?

But with your distinction between what is acceptable and what is (dare I add, objectively) possible, it sounds like there is a chasm between the economic and the social such that the social could never be a constraint upon the economic (or a facilitator of the economic, for that matter). If that is the case, I see little reason for popular struggle since capital will act independently of the existence of any such struggles and settle its issues on its own independent terms. If that is the case, then I guess we assess things differently.

Jasper

Paul,

I see your confusion above (para 2). I would say this: to the extent that the struggles don't hope to overturn capitalism but to "leash" it, then yes, if they want persist, they depend upon continued conditions of profitability. The deterioration of those conditions--brought about in part by the contradictions of the post-war settlement--gave way to the "unleashing" or "unbinding" in the neoliberal period. . . Of course, popular movements, which need not have a purely reformist character, can emerge in all kinds of periods. The settlement of '45-'73 grew out of the struggles during the Great Depression. . .But what allowed it to be so enduring a conjuncture was the mutually-supporting aims of support for education, social welfare, etc., and profitability. That's what kept the capitalist counter-offensive (which never really went away) at arm's length.

As for the last point, it's important to acknowledge what we're talking about when we talk about the behavior of capitalists and corporations. It's a mistake to think of this behavior as resting upon "expectations" or even moral ideas, though these play a part as well. Capitalists are compelled to make certain decisions because of market forces--even if they have the best intentions, or low expectations, or really care about humanity. None of this matters, because they are fundamentally *forced* to act in certain ways if they want to survive. (In the case of corporations, this is formally instantiated by the imperative to increase revenue). The decisions of capitalists are compelled by economic structures. This is why, for Marx, capitalists are "personifications" of capital, and why we can speak about "capital" in the abstract at all. It's not just a phrase that Marxists use to make things sound kind of sinister. Capital is not human, and it doesn't care at all about what's acceptable, moral, etc. I'm not saying these mores and values and human feelings and ideas don't play a part--I think they do. But they're only an element of the drama, and not even the main one.

Cheers,

Jasper

Nate

Jane, this isn't my blog so I think I'm overstepping my bounds some in saying this but still - regardless of your intentions I find some of your asides to be pretty passive aggressively pedantic (for instance, "Let's try to tell the story right", and "If you aren't reading, it makes it a little hard to grasp your responses, I should say") and they make me for one less interested in taking you seriously. Knock it off.

On the main substantive point that you raise in relation to me (not to say you and others are not raising other interesting points, I'm still taking a lot in here), you refer to a "relatively decreasing mass of laborers" and I take you to be arguing in defense of the view that US capitalists as a whole have (as a tendency) increasingly less need of the working class (a view that I think is expressed in a quip in the communique). If I misunderstand you, let me know. I haven't read the material you're referencing and I'm on the fly right now, I'll think more about all this. But for now, it seems to me that the quantitative size of the wage earning work force and the unemployed and so on is all very important, but is not the same as the relationship between the capitalist class and the working class. That the actually existing (ie, specific to the present historical moment) working class - and the power relationships with the capitalist class - experiences various changes is incredibly important, but I see no evidence here that there is an increasing autonomy of the capitalist class in the specific sense that the capitalist class has less need for the working class. Arguably the capitalists are on the offensive and the working class not responding adequately, but "waging an offensive on" or "greater domination of" does not equal "less need for."

cheers,
Nate

jane

Nate, thanks for your manners lesson. I'll try to be more clearly aggressive-aggressive henceforth, and leave the passivity to others.

The point I (and, I think, several others here) struggle to make is simply a contemporary restatement of the tendency for the Organic Composition of Capital to increase — wherein the production of relative surplus value, compelled by intercapitalist competition, drives toward a decreased ratio of laborers to machines. These machines (which include technologies of management, of command and control, which must both be devised and maintained) — hence the changing ratio of "managerial" as opposed to industrial laborers.

This is not such a radical claim, though it seems a foreign language here: not only is it found rather clearly in Marx, it also subtends all the various accounts of immaterial labor, the most well-known of which is Negri/Hardt.

But wouldn't this change in ratio lead to vast numbers of superfluous populations being pushed into an informal economy, and a crisis of value extraction, much as Jodi suggests above? That is, wouldn't that situation produce *exactly the crisis we now face*? Good question...

Jasper

Hey Nate,

Just to add one thing that I don't think is addressed here. . . Your objection seems to be to the idea that the authors of the pamphlet seem to be saying that capitalism doesn't need *any* workers. . .This is clearly absurd. But it's not what the pamphlet is getting at, in my view. Obviously, as long as capital continues to exist, it will require workers. But capitalism is able to employ fewer and fewer workers today -- there is a crisis of employment everywhere, and this is one and the same with the crisis of profitability that has been at work for thirty or so years, and of which the recent financial collapse is the fruition. So, "capitalism doesn't need us as workers" should be read as: capitalism doesn't need all of us as workers, and some of us are superfluous. The verb "need" is problematic here, since capitalists would, in fact, like to employ as many people as possible in order to valorize as much capital as possible. Better: "capitalism can't exploit all of us as workers anymore."

Nate

hi Jane, Jasper,

Jane - as you state the substantive point in your last comment, I don't think we disagree.

Jasper - if you think I'm misreading the quote I'll take that seriously and think it over again.
What threw me was that "capitalism doesn't need us as workers" came after "(...) the crisis of the reproduction of the working class" - seeing that, I read the "we" to be "we, the working class" rather than "we, some members of the working class." For what it's worth, I agree with your substantive points as well, except that I don't think it's obvious to everyone that capitalism will always need workers - I've had arguments with people who have tried to say (based on a misreading of bits of the Grundrisse) that machines produce value and that tendentially machines producing value are replacing workers in that capitalism. This came up in a Capital reading group a while back.
I read (perhaps mis- or over-read) the bits quoted here as expressing that perspective. If that's not how you read the communique, then as I said I'll look it over again later. I'd like you to be right, it'd mean the world contains slightly less misunderstandings than I'd thought (the world outside my head anyway), which is always nice to find.

cheers,
Nate

Antonis

Concerning one of the basic contradictions in the text: The "us" which capital no longer needs is obviously not the "us" many of who work full-time and 3/4 of which work to support their studies (section 1), even if they are the same empirical entities. The contradiction registers the gap between ideological self-identification and the harsh reality: the "us" capital no longer needs is the future cultural elite we we once expected or hoped to become.

The contradiction is unacknowledged because the source of political passion here is not solidarity but anger at a perceived demotion of status: only the downwardly mobile path now seems open to university graduates in the humanities. It is a legitimate source of frustration, and even a potentially productive one politically. But not while it hides behind some supposed identity between students and the working class or while it generalizes the long-term decline of employability in the humanities with the far shorter crisis of graduate employability in other areas. At one point, the text states that the Business major of yesterday feeds on the misery of the humanities major of today. This certainly unveils problems in the homogenization of "students" as a subject position, while also rhetorically bypassing the problem of what links today's miserables in the humanities with their contemporary counterparts elsewhere.

Lisa Harms

Read this ironically right before watching the film based on a true story, "Catch Me If You Can" with Leonardo DeCaprio and Tom Hanks. Though created out of North American Hollywood big budget,target paying Market concept, still had insightful lesson to teach with main character posing as a lawyer after passing a barr exam within two weeks at not even nineteen. This amoung a few other career he managed to fool the world into believing him as all the while creating fake cheques. What is interesting is what that The FBI ends up finding themselves doing with this 'criminal' once they 'catch' him. GOes to show what how much society admires actors, even depends on them to a degree only to step all over them and rank them amoung our lowest.
On a paralell level, I have been considering the issue of capitalism for a few years now. 35 years old, back in the place I grew up on the food bank as a child, I never saw the lower mainland of British Columbia this way before. Now I see and feel it - the BMW's all over the place, the homes - suburban neighborhoods, everyone talking about who's home design they use. My friend obsessively wipes every mark behind my children and I when we come to visit in fear that - what - we might turn around and see a mud droplet on het dark walnut stained hardwood, that we put there anyway.
It is definitely magnified - the problem - to me anyway, out here. Everyone must keep up with the Jones's - (actually, exceed them, if they are the smart successful ones). But it is true that the people I have seen and gotten to know like that are never satisfied - actually the ones I know are alchoholics.
Got thinking, what all our obsession of money, junk, toys manufactured for the garbage amounts to seems to clearly cost our neighbors on the other side of the planet the most by way of slave labor (www.storyofstuff.com)Also, our culture and tradition robbing philosophies of thinking we are doing them long term favors by going out there with handfuls of food along with a religious tract, assuming we have made it all better. I, so far have been boycotting the big box stores. For now, I shop at the local deli and, bakery, barber, art store, etc. Really, though, I am left with more questions than answers still....what happens when these little complanies start to swell up and get rich themselves??? The issue seems a little more complex.....clearly we don't need to live with high monetary standards we have made for ourselves, it seems obvious that that only answer would have to be a unified sysstem to even the playing field- globally. The trick, remains the how.

pollywannacracka.blogspot.com

do we need a revolution and start from scratch, is radical change the only answer or can minor adjustments slowly but surely be made to capitalism that would make it more lower class user friendly?

and who would make these changes when the only ones capable are the ones who currently benefit the most, have more to lose so are quite happy to maintain the status quo. is it really a case of capitalism or bust ?

lisa

as scary as it sounds.....

can't say what is more frightening to me - status quo - or that "r" word you just used...
"the university has no history of it's own" the title sugests. I wonder... His Story...or hers. Somebodies? A story maybe? Some meaning...? some purpose once again? I am reminded of lost traditions in times when great art was crafted, wisdom was authentically shared, born out of culture.

Just as in a pure capitalistic society, one giant will eventually rise to the top and take over - we make our choice on who we prefer - money, or what we truly want the university to represent - a return a of liberation of the imagination, passion to teach and learn together again.

Lower and even incomes....would love to have one of those doctors gradding from that school to be mine.... they would certainly have had to want to be passionate for that job...though we'd all be fighting for the few .... or be forced into alternative, creative medicine, healing, AHHH!!!


I bet it would be hard to find a plumber.

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