Friday, July 24, 2009
Wobbly Times number 14
Capitalist economists have no theory of capital. Where does capital come from? Most capitalist economists would say that capital comes from sales. Capitalists sell things on the market and people buy these things and voila! capital exists. If capitalists can't sell the stuff they own, no capital can come into existence. But, where do these things which capitalists sell come from?
They come from Nature and labour. Labour produces things and capitalists sell these things. Labour puts VALUE into goods and services and these goods and services are owned by those people who hire workers for wages. They sell these things at their value i.e. the amount of socially necessary labour time embodied in them. Labour time has to be in the commodity for it to have value. The value of commodities is not expressed in socially necessary labour time but by money prices. Money is the universal equivalent within whcih all commodities are measured. Money is itself a commodity. Money represents crystalized and crystalizing values being and potentially being produced within a class society. Thus, money itself is a commodity which is used to circulate commodities in markets, to sell them and is a measure of value which is created through the employment of workers producing goods and services during their eight or more hours of work. Prices are in turn subject to supply and demand in the marketplace. If there is not demand for the thing being produced, it has no use-value and cannot be sold for its exchange-value (the amount of socially necessary labour time embodied in it) and as the capitalist economist points out, no new capital/wealth comes into existence. So, the capitalist economist knows where capital is realized, in the sale; but not from where it originates, in the production process.
One exception to this rule of average labour time producing the wealth of nations, is Nature. Nature is not produced. Nature is there. If a capitalist owns some part of Nature e.g. a piece of land, the capitalist or landlord can sell that piece of land for a price which has no value. Nothing in the way of socially necessary labour time is embodied in some land which is owned within Nature by capitalists and landlords. On the other hand, some land does have average labour time in it in terms of buildings and the like. But lots of Nature is owned and sold for a price even though there is no labour time embodied in it, although the potential for producing wealth out of the owned land can and most often does come into play in terms of calculating the price of its sale e.g. mining interests.
So, there are two sources of wealth: Nature, as an owned commodity, and human labour time invested in the production of commodities which are owned by capitalists. The sale of a commodity legitimizes the need for it within the market. The market is a gathering of human beings who need goods and services. The market does not produce value rather, human beings validate the production of a good or service by consuming it, by expressing their need for the use-value embodied in the good or service commodity in the marketplace. They do this with their money.
What happens when the price of a commodity is way out of touch with its value? What happens when a commodity is selling for way more than its value?
We have seen what happens just recently when $8 trillion of housing wealth was wiped off the books of various holders. This is what a bubble is. It is a bubble because price has increasingly become separated from value through market speculation. A bubble is an inflated price with insufficient value to back it up. For example, when real estate speculators and bankers sell property wealth as collateralized debt obligations (cdos) and these cdos are backed up by home buyers with insufficient wages to pay off their property loans, the ones which have been bundled into said cdos, you have a bubble waiting to burst.
Wealth comes from labour and Nature, not from financial speculation and the consequent market manipulation of price. Wealth is created when M(money) is used by capitalist to buy C (capital) and has more wealth is produced M'(money) and realised after sale: M-C-M'. C is composed of fixed, circulating and variable capital. Variable capital is the labour time and skill purchased with money capital by people who own capital i.e. capitalists. Variable capital varies in the sense that a capitalist buys it for wages, after which the producer creates more value than what was expressed in her/his value. Labour is a commodity too, bought on the labour market. The price of labour time is expressed in money as wages. Capitalists own their money capital from selling the wealth which workers have created for sale in the marketplace earlier.
If wealth as measured in money is garnered from speculative bubble making, the middle C is missing or mostly missing and no new wealth is created by workers using the means of production (fixed capital) and elements from Nature e.g. coal, gas and other forms of circulating capital. What you have with bubbles is M-M'. You also have a lot of unemployment, suffering, poverty amidst plenty and lots of the other assorted social problems of the wages system.