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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

In today's nearly unprecedented economic crisis, even the right-wing pundits are recognizing the objectivity of Marx's analysis of the logic of capitalism--see Ross Douthat's (New York Times op-ed columist) piece in last Sunday's edition (February 24, 2013): 


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Marxist-Humanist Dialectics: Marx's Capital, vol.3 and the January, 2013 AP ser...

Marxist-Humanist Dialectics: Marx's Capital, vol.3 and the January, 2013 AP ser...: The recent research on the new stage of automation and robotic production, just now reaching the mainstream press, is indeed stunning. Jus...

Marx's Capital, vol.3 and the January, 2013 AP series on automation, the Great Recession, and permanent job losses

The recent research on the new stage of automation and robotic production, just now reaching the mainstream press, is indeed stunning. Just in the past few days, we've seen a major series of 3 articles by the Associated Press, and a CBS 60 Minutes feature:

The Associated Press series on the Great Recession, Automation, and Job Losses

(1) Recession, Tech, Kill Middle Class Jobs
Paul Wiseman and Bernard Condon, AP Business Writers

(2) Practically Human, Can Smart Machines Do Your Job?
Paul Wiseman,  Bernard Condon, and Jonathan Fahey

(3) Will Smart Machines Create a World Without Work?
Paul Wiseman and Bernard Condon

In light of what is going on today, it is indeed interesting to read Marx's section on "Internal Contradictions" in the Capital Volume 3 chapter, "The Law of the Falling Tendency of the Rate of Profit":

"A development of the productive forces which would diminish the absolute number of laborers, that is, which would enable the entire nation to accomplish its total reproduction in a shorter time, would cause a revolution, because it would put the majority of the population upon the shelf...The absolute spare time gained by society does not concern Capitalism. The development of the productive powers concerns it only to the extent that it increases the surplus labor time of the working class, not to the extent that it decreases the labor time for material production in general. Thus capitalist production moves in contradictions...We have seen that the growing accumulation of capital implies its growing concentration. Thus the power of capital, the personification of the conditions of social production in the capitalist, grows over the heads of the real producers. Capital shows itself more and more as a social power, whose agent the capitalist is, and which stands no longer in any possible relation to the things which the labor of any single individual can create. Capital becomes a strange, independent, social power, which stands opposed to society as a thing, and as the power of capitalists by means of this thing. The contradiction between capital as a general social power and as a power of private capitalists over the social conditions of production develops into an ever more irreconcilable clash, which implies the dissolution of these relations and elaboration of the conditions of production into universal, common, social conditions."

Marxist-Humanist Dialectics: Marx and Race Against the Machine

Marxist-Humanist Dialectics: Marx and Race Against the Machine: Has anyone looked at the Race Against the Machine , which was published last year, authored by MIT Business Management professors, Erik Br...

Marxist-Humanist Dialectics: Dialectics of new stage of automation, need for de...

Marxist-Humanist Dialectics: Dialectics of new stage of automation, need for de...: Today's New York Times Sunday, 11/25,/2012, John Markoff “Using an artificial intelligence technique inspired by theories about how th...

Dialectics of new stage of automation, need for deepening concepts of post-capitalist society

Today's New York Times Sunday, 11/25,/2012, John Markoff

The article goes on to acknowledge that “misplaced enthusiasm” followed by “equally striking declines” have been regular occurrences over the past few decades (“In the 1980s, a wave of commercial start-ups collapsed, leading to what some people called the “A.I. [artificial intelligence] winter.”)
But what researchers have called “deep learning” has reached a new stage characterized by growing speed and accuracy of so-called “neural nets” for their “resemblance to the neural connections in the brain”.

“Structural change in the labour market is clearly manifesting itself in the business cycle. The long-term decline in routine occupations is occurring in spurts - employment in these jobs is lost during recessions. The reach of job polarisation is wide. Automation and the adoption of computing technology is leading to the decline of middle-wage jobs of many stripes, both blue-collar jobs in production and maintenance occupations and white-collar jobs in office and administrative support. It is affecting both male- and female-dominated professions and it is happening broadly across industries –manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, financial services, and even public administration.

Recent discussions on this list have included the relevance of Keynesian theories and polices in the current economy, such as full-employment goals.

Perhaps, given the historical data that has been coming to light, these goals have become utopian. In contrast, a reexamination of Marx’s “mature critical theory” (Postone) may be more relevant, in which, “Free time -- which is leisure time as well as time for higher activity -- transforms its possessor into a different subject  and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject” (Grundrisse).

Marx and Race Against the Machine

Has anyone looked at the Race Against the Machine, which was published last year, authored by MIT Business Management professors, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee? They are making a serious attempt to interest people in the notion that automation, especially its acceleration over the past decade, explains more about the current economic crisis than cyclicality and stagnation. 

Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue that theirs is a view that “remains on the fringes”, citing as a reason low unemployment levels in the U.S. throughout the 1980s, ‘90s, and first seven years of the millennium. They cite IMF papers, as well as a 2010 Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond report on a long-term rise in unemployment which, “does not contain the words, computer, hardware, software, or technology in its text.”

I began to have questions about the currentsignificance of automation in today’s economic crisis recently while working onthe volume of correspondence between Raya Dunayevskaya, the Marxist humanisttheoretician, and two prominent members of the Frankfurt School, HerbertMarcuse and Erich Fromm.

Among the topics in the correspondence that provoked the most fireworks between Dunayevskaya and Marcuse especially were the social implications of automated production. Automation was taking hold particularly in heavy industries, such as coal mines and automobile plants, racing ahead from the 1940s to the mid-1960s. Though it continued until 1978, the bulk of the Dunayevskaya-Marcuse correspondence took place between 1954 and 1965, years in which Dunayevskaya published Marxism and Freedom, and Marcuse published One-Dimensional Man (as well as Eros and Civilization and Soviet Marxism). 

Dunayevskaya and Marcuse agreed that technology and automated production were of the utmost importance to understand both the current social conditions and the contemporary relevance (or lack of such) of Hegel’s philosophy and Marx’s theory. Marx’s Grundrisse was an especially important text here, having fairly recently been published in a more accessible edition, though still not in English translation. In a nutshell, while Marcuse tended to argue that “complete automation” could end the long night of alienated labor, essentially abolishing the “realm of necessity”, finally allowing the “realm of freedom” to prevail, Dunayevskaya argued that the potentials of automated production did raise the question of what kind of labor people should do, but could never abolish the realm of necessity. As Marx wrote in Capital, Volume 3, “The true realm of freedom, the development of human powers as an end in itself, begins beyond [the realm of necessity], though it can only flourish with this realm of necessity as its basis. The reduction of the working day is the basic prerequisite.”

Especially important for Brynjolfsson and Mcfee’s argument are 3 graphs:

The first graph shows that, beginning in the 1950s, productivity has increased in every decade, including 2000-2009. In fact, while the 1960s showed the greatest growth in productivity (2.7%), the decade with the second greatest growth in productivity after the 1960s, was 2000-2009 (2.5%).

The second graph shows that the last decade is the first since figures have been compiled to show a decline in real median household income.

The third graph shows job growth to have been in the 20% to 30%+ range in every decade from the 1940s through the 1990s. However, in the decade 2000 to 2010 job growth actually declined 1.1%.

Brynjofsson and Mcfee write:
“This reflects a pattern that was noticeable in the ‘jobless recovery’ of the early 1990s, but has worsened after each of the two recessions since then…The historically strong relationship between changes in GDP and changes in employment have appeared to weaken as digital technology has become more pervasive and more powerful.”

Marcuse tended to argue that even in a society in which increasing automation was the major “centrifugal force” threatening social stability, as long as the “administered population” had the “goods delivered” (employment, rising standard of living), not many realistic prospects for social change appeared on the horizon. But now that we have just completed the first decade in more than half a century in which productivity has continued to soar, but income and job growth have plummeted, where to now for theory and practice?