Alors, bueno, so……In Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 3 Marx writes:
“The process of circulation, therefore, does not, [under conditions of capitalist exchange] like direct barter, become extinguished upon the use values changing places and hands… When one commodity replaces another, the money-commodity always sticks to the hands of some third person. Circulation sweats money from every pore.”
Indeed, capitalist circulation sweats money from every pore. While in barter, exchange mediates need, in capitalist circulation that need is mediated not just by value, but as value. Consumption as a moment in circulation is the reproduction of value. It cannot occur without the pumping of more commodities into the market. The precipitation of money is a generalized, social, global process however petty, particular, specific, and grubby the distribution is (and must be).
Circulation, turnover, trade are the bourgeoisie’s tickets to ride. The markets may not be everything, but without them, without their expansion, capitalism is nothing.
Alors, bueno, so until that fateful year 2008, the annual growth in world trade was generally 1.5 times the rate of growth of global GDP. In the 90s, and then again following the recovery from the 2001 recession, trade grew twice as fast as global output.
After 2008, no such luck. Following the decline of 2009 and the “snapback” of 2010, the ratio of the growth of trade to output hovered at 1:1, declining to 0.6 in 2016.
In value terms, world trade had peaked in 2014 at approximately $18.4 trillion, declining to approximately $16 trillion in 2015, and $15.5 trillion in 2016.
The cause for the peak, and the decline from the peak was marked by rise, peak, blowout, and collapse of oil prices in the 2014-2016 period. For 40 years, overproduction in capitalism has been distilled in the overproduction, and subsequent price oscillations in oil. “Managing” overproduction has meant “managing” the overproduction of petroleum. Changes in the price of oil have precipitated recessions, interest spikes and collapses, bankruptcies, trade wars, and wars, all the while keeping in motion to some degree, the contracts, the securities, the deals, that have to circulate, change hands, so that some money can stick to some fingers somewhere.
Oil took profitability, and with it, trade, up and oil took profitability and with it, trade, down. The recovery in world trade in 2017 from the shadow recession of 2015/2016 proves that. The recovery in oil prices, based on “managing” production through OPEC and Russian quotas produced a 13 percent growth in the value of world trade, which left the value of the world’s exchanges still some three to four percent below the 2014 peak.
To be sure, the political economists employed by and for the bourgeoisie have long defined a recession as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth of a national economy. World economic output grew 2.7 percent in 2015, and 2.3 percent in 2016.
Capitalism is, and is not, a national formation, or rather it is not simply a national formation. It is a global network, and the two consecutive years of declining trade are the results of an acute condition, the decline in the profitability of oil production that is the marker for the chronic condition of capital, which is the tendency for the rate of profit to decline.
It is that chronic tendency that casts its shadow in and through the shrinkage of world trade. It is that shadow recession, illuminated by an apparent “recovery” that cannot best a previous peak, that determines the trade conflicts among the capitalist “partners.”
August 24, 2018